By Grant Hill
It would be hard to find anyone in sports whose unpopularity matches that of Mr. James L. Dolan.
With his rugged look and cynical demeanor, the man deemed “the worst owner in sports” has been a thorn in the side of Knicks fans since he started calling the shots for New York back in 1999.
You might be thinking, does he really deserve that title? Without any hesitation: a resounding yes.
Let’s start this dysfunctional tale in present day, since the 2016-17 NBA season has not been kind to Dolan. For a man who treats the very concept of media attention as a threat to his reign, he has been unable to keep himself out of headlines.
The most recent news surrounds an incident that occurred last Tuesday night when the Knicks played the Chicago Bulls. Reported by Deadspins’ Dave McKenna, Dolan exchanged a few choice words with a fan outside of Madison Square Garden before the game started.
Mike Hamersky was speaking on behalf of Knicks fans everywhere when he yelled, “Sell the team, Jim!” after noticing the owner outside the arena.
Instead of taking the high road, Dolan approached the fan, got in his face and called him a name unfit for print. When asked by McKenna if he actually said that, Dolan was proud in his response, “I did call him [one],” Dolan told McKenna, “because he is [one].”
Like a fight between middle school kids during recess, there were two different sides to the story. Dolan took his usual response, saying that the fan was unruly and possibly drunk. “He had an open bottle of beer and smelled of alcohol, and I told him he wasn’t going in,” said Dolan. Hamersky—a lawyer— denies these allegations, stating there was no time for him to get drunk, as he had just finished teaching a Fordham law class.
Sound familiar? You bet.
Dolan found himself making headlines in an eerily similar situation back in February when he had former Knicks legend Charles Oakley escorted from Madison Square Garden. After an altercation that saw Oakley escorted out and later arrested, Dolan and the organization suggested alcohol as a main factor. A recovering alcoholic himself, Dolan also suggested two years ago that 72-year-old fan Irving Bierman, who didn’t drink, had an alcohol problem after Bierman lashed out at the owners inability to run the franchise. Therefore, calling this his “go-to response” is accurate.
In the handful of interviews Dolan has done, he is almost always questioned on how the fans and media perceive him. Dolan has always answered the same way: it doesn’t bother me. Well Jim, looks like this time it did. Responding to the fan is justifiable, as we all deserve the opportunity to defend ourselves. Getting in the fans face and calling him names, however, is not and he should have acted more professional.
Last Tuesday’s incident, along with the Oakley incident, put Dolan on a national platform. Everyone could now see Dolan as the evil boss he personifies. For the Knicks fans, the Dolan stranglehold has been going on for 17 years and running.
From 2001-present, the post-Ewing era has been nothing but a nightmare: a no-man’s land where hopes, dreams and talents go to die. Led by Dolan, the team has seen only one playoff series win (2013), and a historic collection of awful decisions. Whether it’s been the decisions from GMs, coaches or players, the Knicks have done it the wrong way for almost 20 years.
His latest disaster has been Phil Jackson, who has gone from a hero to a villain within the short span of three years. Before Jackson, it was Isaiah Thomas, whose time in New York makes Knicks fans cringe every time his name is brought up. Dolan has a strange loyalty to men he believes can save the franchise, but who instead just add fuel to the growing fire. Let’s not even get into the list of horrible contracts, because then we will be here all day.
Whichever way you slice it, Dolan’s tenure with the Knicks has been like a bad movie that just doesn’t seem to end. The Knicks have found themselves the laughingstock of the NBA for over two decades, and that likely will not change until Dolan surrenders his reign and hands over the keys to someone more competent.