Knicks owner James Dolan made clear allegations that Charles Oakley’s arrest at Madison Square Garden and subsequent ban from Knicks games is because Oakley may have an alcohol or addiction problem in a ESPN New York radio interview on Friday afternoon.
“I do think that Charles needs help,” Dolan said. “He can't want to have the things that have happened to him, particularly since he's retired as a player. They aren’t good. He's had many physical altercations. He’s been arrested. He's had a lot of trouble. It all seems to stem from his anger. That can’t be something that he intended to have happen. Maybe he doesn’t remember it, but I think he's somewhat in denial.”
Dolan insinuated several times that Oakley may not have been sober on Wednesday, saying he “heard statements from police that he appeared to be impaired.”
At Wednesday’s Knicks game, play briefly stopped halfway through the first quarter as players watched Madison Square Garden security attempt to remove Oakley from his courtside seat. Oakley refused to leave, insisting he had done nothing wrong, and was eventually arrested and charged with three counts of third-degree misdemeanor assault.
The Knicks press release from that evening included the phrase, “We hope [Oakley] gets some help soon.” Knicks reporters on the scene described Oakley as furious — even after Knicks president Phil Jackson tried to talk him down — and said he shouted, “I didn’t do nothing,” as security escorted him out of the building in handcuffs.
“We had just sat down to have a good time,” Oakley said on Thursday when he gave his account of the story. “Next thing I know, I was asked to leave the building. I asked why, and they said, ‘You have to leave because someone ordered you to leave.’”
The Knicks called his version of the story “pure fiction” in another press release on Friday.
In Friday’s radio interview, Dolan elaborated on what he believed was Oakley’s intent.
“It's very clear to us that Charles Oakley came to the Garden with an agenda, with a mission in mind,” he said. “From the moment he stepped into The Garden, and I mean the moment he walked through those sets of doors, he began with this behavior. Abusive behavior. Disrespectful behavior. I don't think it's stuff you wanna say on the radio. Stuff you'd get thrown out of here for. It accelerated and accelerated and accelerated all the way down to his seats, all the way to the security guards.”
You can see video here of Oakley scuffling with security who tried to escort him out of the building. This is presumably what his assault charges stemmed from.
Here is a rough transcript of what Dolan said in Friday’s interview.
We reported about a half an hour ago that Oakley can’t come into the Garden. What’s behind that?
First off, I saw that you're talking about a lifetime ban. I'll talk about that in a little bit, but it's not necessarily a lifetime ban.
The most important thing with that is we need to keep the Harden a place that's comfortable and safe for everybody who goes there. Anybody that comes to the Garden, whether they’ve been drinking too much alcohol, whether they’re looking for a fight, they’re abusive, disrespectful to the staff and the fans, they're gonna be ejected and they’re gonna be banned.
Everybody has a right to come to those game and enjoy them. No one has the right to take that away from anyone else. In this case, that did happen. We are going to put the ban in place. Hopefully it won't be forever.
But you have to admit, this isn’t your ordinary fan. This is Charles Oakley. Are you concerned about the court of public opinion coming down against you?
Certainly Charles is a great Knick. We should probably get that off the table. I loved watching Charles Oakley play basketball for the New York Knicks, as I’m think all the other fans did too. They still admire the way he played.
One of the things with the fans is they remember how Charles played. He was tough. He was gritty. He always had 110 percent energy. They, I think, at times think our teams haven’t had what Charles had. I think that makes them even more beloved, especially considering how we’re doing.
But am I concerned about it? Yes, but at the same time, the number one concern always has to be the safety and comfort of the fans. Whether it's Charles Oakley, or Charles Lindburgh, or Charles Dolan, you do those things, you come to the Garden and you behave that way, you abuse people that way and subject people to that kind of behavior, you will be ejected and banned. That is the right thing to do.
Yes, I understand he was a big star and a Knick, etc, but that doesn't excuse people from that kind of behavior.
OK, so what happened on Tuesday [sic.]. What’s behind why he got thrown out and eventually got arrested?
We’ve sent you some material, and it’s starting to get out now. It's very clear to us that Charles Oakley came to the Garden with an agenda, with a mission in mind. From the moment he stepped into the Garden, and I mean the moment he walked through thoe first set of doors, he began with this behavior. Abusive behavior. Disrespectful behavior. Stuff that I don’t think you want to say on the radio. You'd get thrown out of here for saying that stuff.
It just accelerated and accelerated and accelerated all the way down to his seats, and then ultimately with a confrontation with security, and eventually ending up with his being ejected.
Was the agenda to get to you, you think?
I don’t really know for sure. I'm not inside of Charles Oakley’s mind. He did say a bunch of things along the way that looked like he was headed in my direction. I didn't hear them myself but we heard from our employees, etc, that he was using my name a lot.
But this isn't because I'm nervous. This is because you can't do what he did and stay.
Could anything have been done before he got to his seats?
We weren't perfect here and I think that Charles never should have made it to his seats. That's on us. We're doing things to remedy that to make sure that doesn't happen again with anybody, once you're identified as someone behaving like that.
I can’t say for sure. We know that he talked about on TV that he was drinking beforehand. We’ve heard statements from police and security that he appeared to be impaired, etc. But yes, clearly our staff could see that.
Were they intimidated and that’s why they couldn’t do anything? I don’t know. We’re only a day after this thing. But the right thing, if everything had gone well, is he never would have made it to his seats.
Was that tied into why you parted ways with your head of security?
Yeah, it certainly was. That was just a situation where the person didn’t work out and that was the last straw. We’re obviously looking at everything we did here along the way and everything that happened. That was one of the casualties.
Are you afraid that he’s going to come after you?
No. I don’t think so, although he’s been quoted saying things like he’d poison my food. (Laughs). I don’t think he’s serious about that stuff.
But when anybody famous comes to the Garden, anybody, there's always a heightened security presence around that person.
I can tell you a story. One time, Mark Messier and I were in an elevator, and I said, ‘Let’s stop and get a hot dog. We can run to the hot dog stand and run back, and we’ll never get noticed.’ That was a huge mistake. By the time we got to hot dogs, there were over 200 fans. It was a security problem.
So we’re always mindful of everybody that’s famous, especially alumni Knick that come to the games. Usually, it’s a help.
Were you embarrassed this was happening on national TV?
A, I didn't realize it was on national television, not that it would have made a difference. I wasn't aware of all this stuff that happened before. I wasn't aware that he was behind us. It wasn't until it was pointed out to me that he was behind us that I sorta opened my ear and started to hear him, and what I heard was terrible.
The security personnel came up to me and said, ‘There’s a problem behind you. It’s Charles Oakley.’ I said, ‘Well, can you wait until in between quarters to deal with it, rather than having a scene while the game is going on.’ They said yes. But then, it just got worse, and I said, ‘You gotta do what you gotta do.’
He’s said several times that he did nothing wrong. He’s said all of that stuff.
It's unbelievable. I can't explain. We have videotape, we have dozens of statements, etc. i'm quite sure that everything that we've given the press is very, very accurate.
So, I don't know how to explain it. Maybe he doesn't remember it?
To me, I think that Charles has got a problem. I've said this before, we've said it before. We said one time that he's his own worst problem. He has a problem. People need to sorta understand that.
He has a problem with anger. He’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol, we don't know. But those behaviors — being physically and verbally abusive — .those are personality problems.
On the statement the Knicks released saying they hope Oakley gets help:
Look, we were trying to be kind, it obviously didn't come off that way. [laughs]
But I do think that Charles needs help. He can't want to have the things that have happened to him, particularly since he's retired as a player. They aren’t good. He's had many physical altercations. He’s been arrested. He's had a lot of trouble. It all seems to stem from his anger.
That can’t be something that he intended to have happen. Maybe he doesn’t remember it, but I think he's somewhat in denial.
On current and former players who have spoken in support of Oakley:
Again, the first thing is always going to be about the fans. It's always going to be about the Garden being safe and inviting and comfortable. That, we're not willing to move on at all.
The other players being supportive of other players is totally understandable. The transition from being an active player to being a retired player is difficult.
But at the same time, I’d point out to every single one of them, you look at Rangers and Knicks alumni, we have great relationships with all of our alumni. This is an anomaly. You’re not gonna find 10 guys out there who are saying the Knicks didn't treat me well. In fact, I go across the entire span I’ve been there, 20-plus years, there might be one, maybe two out of hundreds who are unhappy.
Go ask any of them about how they feel about the organization, about how they’ve been treated, about what their relationship is like. I think you’ll hear nothing but positive stuff.
What’s your feeling about the Knick fanbase not liking you so viscerally?
First off, you’d be hard-pressed to find a living New York team owner that the fans like. Maybe John Mara, but only in a championship year. So you sort of know when you come into it that you’re not going to be the most loved individual. I do think you hear that from some fans.
But I hear from plenty of fans that they appreciate that we take the investment into the team to the max that we take it. That we do everything we can to make the game experience as great of a game experience for our fans, even when we lose. We spent a billion dollars renovating Madison Square Garden.
I don’t believe that it’s everybody that feels that way. But I do believe there’s a malcontent group that’s very vocal, and they’ll always be there.
He said there was an incident in New Orleans where you refused to shake his hand. Would you sit down with Oakley in a room and resolve your differences?
Listen, there is nothing that would make me happier than to see Charles Oakley be at center court being honored along with the rest of his teammates and my shaking his hand, etc. All we need for that to happen is for Charles to address these behaviors.
I don't recall anything at an All Star Game, so I’m not sure what that's about.
He was a great Knick, and we'd love to have him. All of his teammates would, etc. He should be with that group. He should be up there at center court like with the bomb squad the other day. He should be up there being recognized, because the fans do love him.
But this behavior just doesn't work with that. Until he can address it and get it under control, then we probably won’t be able do that. But I’d love to be able to do that.
How do you feel about the direction your franchise is going?
(Laughs). Well, three years ago, I signed a contract with Phil Jackson, the man who has more championship rings than anybody else. He was the best guy we thought we could find to run the New York Knicks.
I made an agreement with him. The agreement didn't say that you have to have this amount of wins at this time or anything of the sort like that. I literally turned over the entire basketball operations to Phil and to [Knicks general manager] Steve [Mills]. That’s where I’m at.
Whether I like the results or don't like the results, I’m going to honor that agreement all the way to the end.
It's not over yet. My hope is that the team will become much, much better and Phil will be successful. As he's had all along the way, he has my support and resources to do it.
But I recognized some three-plus years ago that running a basketball operation, this not my skill set. The best thing I can do is find the best guy. Everybody seemed to agree.
In fact, a lot of people said, 'You're not gonna be able to stay away. You're gonna meddle.' I think everybody recognizes now that I have really stayed away and let Phil absolutely run the franchise. I intend to do that through the length of the agreement.
How can I get anyone else to come and work for us if I didn’t honor my agreement.
You’re going to honor your agreement with Jackson?
Yes, of course. Right now, at this point, I'm hearing from people, 'You have to step in.” No. It just doesn’t work that way.
And you still believe in him?
I’m going to honor my agreement. It doesn't matter whether I think he's right or whether he's wrong. I'm going to honor my agreement, because that's what you do.
He’s got a little more than two years left and he has every right to continue on with that agreement for the full time. Let's hope he's successful.
You also have an opt out after the third year?
I am not going to exercise any opt outs. I don't know that Phil is either. I’m going to honor that agreement for the full agreement.
With his bashing of Carmelo Anthony, what player is going to come here if he’s bashing the superstar?
That is totally within Phil’s control. Phil has to address that. He’s gonna be concerned about that. I’m not going to weigh in on those things that I said I wouldn't weigh in on.
You like Carmelo, though? You made the trade happen. Do you want Carmelo traded?
You know what? Michael, I'm not going to go there, because hat's meddling with Phil. That's telling him how to do his job. I'm not going to do it.
Are you OK with Phil’s tweets?
Part of his agreement is that he completely controls his own public relations, his own fan relations. It’s totally within his control.
Wow, you gave him a lot of control
You just need a memory here. Everybody was calling for it.
To get a guy with 11 rings with that kind of experience to come and do that kind of job, he was right to say, ‘I need full control.’ We wouldn't have been able to get him.
I'm not gonna bite on the bait, guys.
Did you force Phil to re-sign Carmelo? Did you not allow him to hire Kurt Rambis as the coach?
No. Not true.
The Carmelo thing is not true either. It was totally up to Phil what to do.
I honestly had no idea what he was going to do. I sort of made a point of staying away and not weighing in.
But you still own the team. Anything he does has to come out of your pocket.
He submits a budget through Steve (Mills), who does a lot of the operations work too. Financially he's stayed absolutely on target.
Why, with Phil, have you decided not to get involved?
Three years ago, if you look at where we were before that, where I tried to use the best I could do to help along with this, we weren't doing well and the fans were upset, as they should be. They want a winning team every year. I recognized that I plain don't have those skills.
So the smart thing to do as an executive is, when you can't do something and it’s not in your skill set, you hire somebody who’s good at it. Try and hire the best you can. It’s New York and that’s what you do in New York. You try to get the best you can.
But he never was an executive. Was there a concern there?
I don't recall there being a concern. Mostly, we were concerned about whether he would come.
I think that Phil Jackson is a great basketball mind. I don't know how you could argue otherwise with the success that he's had. That's what drew us to him.
Do you believe he’s going to opt out, or is he staying?
I have gotten no indications that he's planning on doing anything other than staying through the length of the contract.
You really do want to win. Does it just eat at you that there hasn’t been much winning?
I would like to win. You’re right. I’m not sure i should say much more than that. I would really like to win.
Everybody that works with me, including Phil, we want to win. By the way, so does everyone else that works there. Phil Jackson wants to win. Carmelo Anthony wants to win. Jeff Hornacek wants to win. Everything I see says they’re putting all their effort and energy into it.
We haven’t been winning, but I've got the best people on it that I could find. I don’t know if there's much more I can do.
As a fan, has Phil done a good job?
I’m not going to comment on that. From the position I'm in, Phil doesn't need to hear it from me, especially through the radio, about the job.
It’s a five-year deal, guys. Maybe, at the end of five years, we'll see. Right now, we're still in the middle of his deal and he’s doing that job, I’m staying out.
So just to double check: if Oakley comes to the game tonight [against Denver], he’s not getting in?
Would the Knicks help Oakley get help?
When you have issues like this, the first step for anybody is to ask for help. He has lots of people around him that would help him, but we would too, if he would seriously address these issues.
Have you talked to any of his former teammates that work with you?
No, I haven't had any direct conversations with [Allan Houston, John Starks, Larry Johnson].
This was not just the day before yesterday incident. We’ve had a relationship with Charles since he retired and left the Knicks. Every time we have tried to patch things up, to mend things with him, to invite him to games, every time it ends up the same way. Abusive. Disrespectful. We eventually gave up and we stopped trying to reach out for him.
And now this.
And look, it's certainly not just about me. I would like the fans to hear this, too. There were security people there who were abused. There were service people there who were abused. The same people that the fans who come to the game, who are gonna help those fans find their seats, get them food, try and make them comfortable, they were abused.
And they were abused in a really horrible, angry, nasty way, with racial overtones, sexual overtones, the stuff you never ever want to hear.
How do you bring your kids to a game if you think that's gonna happen? You don’t.
There was a time, way back before we took over the Garden, when it was not uncommon to see fights and extremely rowdy behavior. We put an end to that. We’re not gonna ever go back to that. It's always gonna be a place where you can bring your kids, bring your family, it's always gonna be safe. Nobody is gonna disparage you or treat you like that.
Did it bother you that people were chanting his name at the Rangers game?
You know, I certainly noticed that. On the one hand, I understand it. He was a great Knicks player. I’d like to be chanting ‘CHARLES OAKLEY.’ I wish I could be.
But I do think that those fans — tonight, at the game, we’ll probably hear chants. But I’d like those same people to look around and look at the people working at Madison Square Garden, and understand that the person they are chanting their name for may have been a great player, but he was terribly abusive to those same people who are there to help him.
When they do that, in some way, it's like saying, ‘As good as you are to me, it doesn't matter to me.' Take them into account. Please.
What do you say to the fans who are painting you as a villain?
Were the people chanting his name thrown out of the game?
[Laughs]. No. There were a lot of them! No.
Look, that’s not abusive. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’d prefer you root for our team, but even when you root for the other team, you’re still welcome to come to Madison Square Garden.
Are you going to the game tonight? Are you afraid of what you might hear?
You know what? I fully expect that’s going to happen. The way I will interpret it is that it’s the love of Charles Oakley’s basketball game, which I totally understand.
Is your level of involvement with the Rangers the same as with the Knicks?
No. Glen [Sather] and I, and Jeff [Beukeboom] and I talk quite often, and I don’t seem to have had a negative impact there. They still like me to come and talk and give my opinions, etc. But Glen does still have the final say.