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Ball Don't Lie

James Dolan, according to Madison Square Garden lore, had to be told who Fmr. Attorney General John Ashcroft was

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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James Dolan and John Ashcroft at their respective podiums (Getty Images)

It is incredibly easy to feel good for New York Knicks fans, as their team races out to a superb 16-5 record as they prepare to take on the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Not only did Knicks fans have to sit through the uneasy last few years under former (and now "visiting") coach Mike D'Antoni, but there was the whole Isiah Thomas era that preceded that, and the seemingly endless years of chasing mediocrity following Scott Layden's ascension. Before that, there was the sometimes combative Dave Checketts years, which included the Don Nelson experiment, and Pat Riley resigning via fax, and … you get the idea. They've earned this.

The MSG company, and owner James Dolan? Maybe not so much. It's true that after years of throwing huge gobs of money at the wrong players, Dolan and his team have finally acquired a batch worth spending on, and we appreciate him not ruining Knicks games by not showing up to sit courtside; but it still remains tough to root for the team knowing the mind of the person who thinks he pulled all the right strings to make it happen. As a crummy country club "blues" guitar player, Dolan will no doubt enjoy that turn of phrase.

What he won't enjoy is Selena Roberts' latest column, entitled Revenge of the Clown, which details just how undeserving Dolan is of his great team. And though there is so, so much more to read in this must-read piece of work from Roberts, one particularly daft note left us giggling, and we're sure it will leave you feeling the same way. From Selena's piece:

On one game night in 2003, two dapper gentlemen were sitting at a table in the suite, circled by 12 security guards with earpieces. Real motorcade stuff. In walks Dolan. Observers in the room saw Jim stop and stare at the scene. He then crooked his finger at a Garden official, which, with Dolan, is always code for: Get the hell over here. In a conversation in front of several guests — and in detail that has become Garden lore among employees — Dolan had the following discussion:

"Who are they?" says Jim, eyeballing the two distinguished-looking gentlemen. He was told the two men were important foreign dignitaries.

"Who are all the other guys," asks Jim.

"They're secret service."

"They can't have 12 bodyguards," says Jim, now completely irritated. "I don't care who they are. I have one bodyguard and I'm the owner of the goddamn team."

"Well," says the Garden executive, overheard trying to lighten the mood, "You'll have to call John Ashcroft and tell him they can't have 12."

And then Jim says (wait for it, wait for it), "Who's John Ashcroft?"

Two things. First, read Selena's feature, because it's very much worth it, and she was a Knick beat writer at the New York Times during many of the Knick franchise's many, many low points.

Secondly, this is one of those stories that sounds too good to be true. That, during the Bush administration's first term and Ashcroft's absolute peak of power during the swirl of the Iraq invasion, James Dolan would have no clue who the sitting attorney general was.

It's not just because I went to college in Missouri during Ashcroft's time as the senator of that state (a state that, in 2000, defeated him with the candidacy of a man in Mel Carnahan who had died three weeks prior to the election) that would leave me aware of just who John Ashcroft is. The point is that by 2003, two years after he and Bush took to office, you're kind of supposed to know who John Ashcroft is.

(And also not get upset when dignitaries that the country's highest office sent to your stadium to enjoy some American Good Times have 12 bodyguards. They're politicians. You own a basketball team and cable company. They need bodyguards, you don't.)

Through hard work and smart decision-making, the players and coaches on the New York Knicks have well-earned their 16-5 record. On Thursday their fans will get to heartily boo former coach Mike D'Antoni, as he sidles into MSG with an embarrassed and often embarrassing Lakers squad. Everything is working out, and they have a legitimate shot to make it out of the east.

That doesn't mean it's time to start throwing roses at every beaming face pictured in tonight game's program, though. The head of the fish still stinks.

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