If New York City likes one thing over all things it is toughness. They will take tough over glamour. When Pat Riley came to New York from Los Angeles, he shed his glamorous past and created bully basketball with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. The league hated it but the city felt redeemed. Come into the lane and you will feel it. Not to mention the Oakley principle: he made his teammates tougher. He was the perfect compliment for Patrick Ewing and the best thing about Oak was he didn’t give a damn what you thought. He was as old school as they come. He stuck up for teammates. He hammered players when they came into the lane. He never smiled in the game, not once; it was all business. He was the archetype when the NBA was about intimidation and toughness, not friends and Twitter. Knick fans didn’t just appreciate Oak, they identified with him.
NYC can be a hard city. Brooklyn can be hard. Queens can be hard. The Bronx can be hard. And here was Oakley representing that identity of having to make a living the tough way.
And here was James Dolan the rich man’s son who never had a manual labor work minute in his life getting Charles Oakley arrested as if Oak had done nothing for his franchise, as if he was garbage. He was charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal trespass. Previously, he had rejected a plea deal in which the arrest would be expunged.
He accepted it on Friday. Oakley has to stay out of trouble for 6 months. Oakley is banned from MSG for a year.
Banned from MSG is what Carmelo Anthony wants. He is doing his best to force a trade in an oh so Carmelo passive way. Speak softly and carry a big stuck. But unlike Oakley, Carmelo has zero leverage. He can’t force the Knicks to do anything. And the way it looks, Oakley gets the best of the deal, not having to watch the Knicks in person. Despite the exit of the Zen Master, the Knicks still don’t know exactly who they are other than a team that wants to build around Kristaps Porzingis but struggle with the details.
This is the team with an owner (James Dolan) who called a former player (Charles Oakley) an alcoholic. Pause for a moment. Take the glamour teams and their beloved players. The Bulls have long passed the Dennis Rodman era. Would they ever say he hit the bottle, even though Rodman has had substance abuse issues? Would Danny Ainge call his former teammates Robert Parish and M.L. Carr lushes? Would Jeanie Buss lay out A.C. Green or Kurt Rambis?
No. Of course not. Tough players are the franchise untouchables. They come to games, they get their ovation from the fans, they grimace at how bad their former teams are and everyone calls it a day.
But James Dolan had to be a hardass and ban Oakley from the game and the stupid thing about it, from his warped view, it had the opposite effect. He turned Oakley into a hero.
It’s hard to say when Carmelo saw the light and decided he wanted out but no one would be surprised if the Oakley fiasco was the cold water in the face that Carmelo needed to reassess. They say if you can’t be good, don’t be boring. But this was not what they were talking about, humiliating a former great.
Oakley finally agreed to a plea because a trial would have been ridiculous. The Knicks off-season has been ridiculous. So there is some symmetry after months of Knicks confusion. And if the Knicks live up to their reputation, more confusion is coming.