I guess you can say the Knicks’ dysfunction runneth over.
The Phil Jackson Car-melodrama seemed more than enough for any team to handle — or not handle in the case of the Knicks. However, during Wednesday night’s game versus the Los Angeles Clippers, the Knicks proved that there are no boundaries to their dysfunction.
In one of the most bizarre scenes in New York sports history, ex-Knick and legend Charles Oakley stole the show along with a few Madison Square Garden security guards, before being carried away from his seat (a few rows up from owner James Dolan), handcuffed and arrested, as fans chanted his name.
But, let’s deal with Phil versus Melo first.
Last night, after another Knicks’ loss, this time a 119-115 collapse at the hands of the Clippers, Carmelo Anthony had a chance to react to Phil Jackson’s latest Melo slight, this one in the form of an incomprehensible tweet in which Jackson seemingly co-signed a particularly harsh pile-on article bashing Anthony by Kevin Ding of the Bleacher Report.
“Yeah,” Anthony said shortly with a slight smile, when asked whether he had heard about the tweet. “No,” he said flatly when asked if he had any reaction.
When asked about whether he still trusted Jackson, after having said as much three years ago, he chuckled and said, “I did say that, huh?” “You got me, you got me,” he continued to laughter. Finally, when prodded on whether anything had changed in his thought process from three years ago, he slyly replied, “I trust the process.”
Anthony has handled the chaos remarkably well, better than I could have, for sure. He is extremely professional in his dealings with the media, who often have piled on and written lazy and unfair stories about Anthony being nothing more than a selfish ball-stopper.
Anthony has never come close to shirking his media responsibilities either. To the contrary, he faces the media horde that crowds his locker after every demoralizing loss, trade discussion leak or Jackson diss and thoughtfully answers reporters’ questions directly.
In recent days, the tide of popular opinion has changed a bit, to the point where people are starting to see things from Anthony’s perspective and rightfully so.
Anthony is who he is and who he always was. Not a selfish, one-dimensional loser, as has been the narrative at times, but a great scorer, capable of being a complete player when in the right situation and coached well.
He, of course, won a National Championship at Syracuse as a do-it-all forward under the tutelage of the great Jim Boeheim, and his Olympic exploits while playing for Mike Krzyzewski are well documented. He even had success under another good coach, George Karl, during his time in Denver.
The Knicks have been a tougher shell to crack.
New York knew what they were getting when they traded for him in 2011, and Jackson knew what he was getting when he re-signed Anthony to a maximum deal with a no-trade clause in 2014. He hasn’t disappointed. He has been one of the best scorers in the game throughout his time in New York. I don’t remember anyone comparing Anthony to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant in 2011 or 2014, as Mr. Ding’s article tries to.
If anything, the disappointment has come from the Knicks’ front office.
I am not one who believes Phil Jackson has been an abject failure. I like that he drafted Kristaps Porzingis, of course, and I also liked his free agent signings coming into this season. However, he has failed in his area of expertise: coaching.
For a man who unquestionably knows what it takes to win championships, he has inexplicably chosen coaches unprepared to do the same. He took a chance on a green Derek Fisher, which turned out to be a disaster. He tried to get fans and media to buy into Kurt Rambis — that didn’t happen.
His latest coaching decision is what he is dealing with now. Jeff Hornacek is a good guy, who no doubt knows the game. But he had limited success as a coach prior to his current assignment, and he has never been known as a defensive coach. Defense wins championships, Jackson knows this. Despite all of the offensive talent he possessed with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson’s teams always played great defense.
Jackson’s preoccupation with the triangle offense, his insistence on hiring coaches who he can relate to personally or has some prior relationship with, or maybe even some weird insecurity about hiring another great coach has overshadowed his player personnel moves and greatly contributed to the Knicks’ current dysfunctional state.
But, back to last night’s dysfunction.
Prior to the game, Hornacek was asked whether he was prepared for the dysfunction before taking the Knicks’ head coaching job. He said he was, that people had warned him and told him “something is always going on,” and that his experience so far has definitely “lived up to its billing.” I’m not sure he knew how right he was.
The dysfunction spilled into the stands before the end of the first quarter when all attention was diverted to the baseline, a couple of rows up from where Knicks’ owner James Dolan sits. Charles Oakley was in a heated confrontation with Knicks’ security that turned ugly and physical in front of a national television audience and a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden, that included NBA commissioner, Adam Silver.
Oakley violently shoved multiple security members and was himself violently whisked away by up to nine of them, taken to the ground, handcuffed and arrested.
While being detained inside the tunnel, I witnessed Oakley handcuffed and screaming (often not completely audibly) about “Dolan,” and demanding he be released. I also witnessed Phil Jackson attempting to talk to him.
Oakley’s feud with Dolan has been documented. Back in June, Oakley was a guest on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast that I cohost with ESPN The Undefeated columnist Bill Rhoden. Oakley did not hold back his feelings about Dolan.
“The owner wouldn’t shake my hand in New Orleans three years ago at the All-Star game,” he said in response to whether he had a relationship with the Knicks. He continued: “I went to the game last year against the Hornets. The owner sent security guards to tell me I can’t move out of my seat… I go to games, I buy my own tickets, I like the guys, but I don’t know. I mean, you treat people wrong, I don’t care how much money you got.”
“I wish he would come in here,” he said seemingly joking. “He’s just like Barkley to me, I don’t know who I want first.”
Oakley was released from police custody around midnight after being given a desk appearance ticket. He is being charged with three counts of assault.
The Knicks issued a statement that ended with their arguably disingenuous plea for Oakley to “get help.”
I asked Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, who played with Oakley in New York in the 1990s about the Knicks’ statement. “I’m staying out of the fray, there,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. They were in the right, security has to do what they have to do.”
But, it was clear that Rivers was alarmed and considers Oakley a great friend and teammate. “Yeah, that was sad. That was tough for me to watch. Honest to God, if you could see, I actually took three steps. I swear I was going to run down there. And then I thought ‘what the hell am I going to do?’ But I didn’t like that, that’s my guy,” he said. “I’ve been in the league a long time, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Neither have we, Doc, neither have we.
The Knicks continue to provide dysfunction at levels never before seen.
Jamal Murphy is a contributor to CBS Local. He writes extensively about college basketball, the NBA and other sports, often focusing on the intersection of sports and social justice/awareness. Listen to Jamal on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast (iTunes & Soundcloud) that he cohosts with legendary sports columnist, Bill Rhoden. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @Blacketologist.