New York Knicks legend Charles Oakley has a new book out called “The Last Enforcer,” filled with stories about his time in and around the NBA. There’s a particular story about the first meeting between Oakley and Knicks governor James Dolan during NBA All-Star weekend 2014, that went from a refused handshake to LeBron James saying he would never play for the Knicks.
Oakley was hanging out with LeBron and his agent Rich Paul when William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley approached with Dolan and made an introduction, but Dolan refused to shake Oakley’s hand. Oakley assumed it was because he’d been critical of the team since Dolan took over.
“You would have thought I did something to his wife,” Oakley wrote. “Sh–, Latrell Sprewell, who played five seasons with the Knicks, cursed at Dolan in front of Dolan’s wife when he returned to face the Knicks back in 2003, and they still became friends. I didn’t do anything to this man. What did I ever say that was so bad that he would ignore me like that? I wondered. Man, I wanted to hit him in the head.
“I walked back to LeBron and said, ‘This mother—er (Dolan) wouldn’t shake my hand,'” Oakley continued. “All LeBron said was: ‘This is why I’m never going to New York.'”
James had already rejected the Knicks in the summer of 2010 when he chose the Miami Heat. Dolan and the Knicks’ now infamous “Sopranos” video pitch with the late James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in their roles as Tony and Carmela Soprano failed miserably.
If there was any hope James would reconsider during free agency in 2014 and 2018, apparently that interaction with Oakley closed the door.
This isn’t surprising. Dolan has long been known as an impediment to the Knicks landing marquee free agents. Players around the league have spoken on and off the record about the franchise not being a destination. Despite the appeal of New York City.
Current Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving shunned the Knicks and Madison Square Garden in 2019, opting for the better culture across the bridge in Brooklyn.
“The cool thing right now is not the Knicks,” Durant said after signing with Brooklyn.
The 2020-21 season looked like things were about to change.
In the offseason prior the Knicks named former CAA agent Leon Rose as president, and Worldwide Wes was brought along with him inside the front office. They hired CAA client Tom Thibodeau to be the team’s head coach.
The moves paid off immediately as the team made the playoffs and saw a career year from Julius Randle and huge improvement from 2019 No. 3 draft pick RJ Barrett.
The team drafted well and wasn’t saddled with any bad contracts but still hasn’t been able to land any marquee free agents. It’s still early in the regime’s tenure, but with the current season going poorly, Dolan might start meddling with personnel decisions again.
It’s not impossible for a team to succeed in spite of its owner. Look at the Phoenix Suns. Robert Sarver is by all accounts a bad human being, and his team went to the NBA Finals last year and are the best team in the league this season.
Of course they have rock solid leadership in general manager James Jones, head coach Monty Williams, and starting point guard Chris Paul. Those three keep the team insulated from any noise out of their control and focused on the task at hand.
Unfortunately the Knicks don’t have a leader like Paul, and while Rose, Wesley and Thibodeau have done some good things in the two years they’ve been on the job, they’re not yet in the class of Jones and Williams.
Maybe the Knicks will one day excel despite their handicap at owner. Of course he could always sell the team, which would make Knicks fans the world over extremely happy.
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