Say, you know how New York Knicks owner James Dolan decided to respond to a lifelong Knicks fan's angry email decrying the depressing state of his favorite team by referring to said fan as a (probably) miserable (probable) alcoholic, and to tell said fan to go root for the Brooklyn Nets "because the Knicks don't want you?" Well, you're not going to believe this, but lots of people didn't like it.
Yeah, as it turns out, while NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apparently thinks it's no big deal for an NBA owner to tell a justifiably aggrieved customer that he doesn't want his business and also that his family hates him, a great many other people seem to believe it was an unreasonably mean and stupid thing to do, another in a long line of weird, small and tone-deaf moves from one of the most reviled and least respected owners in professional sports. Shocking, right?
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Silver told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post on Monday that Dolan would receive no reprimand from the league office for his reply to 73-year-old Irving Bierman's email, calling Dolan "a consummate New Yorker" who simply responded to "an unkind email" with one of his own. (Yeah, you know us New Yorkers, always calling one another miserable alcoholics as we say, "Hey, I'm walkin' here!") There are those who disagree, and think Silver should have punished Dolan "for general stupidity," although Silver's predecessor isn't one of them; nor, for that matter, is Bierman, according to Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal.
The commish struck a similar "much ado about nothing" tone during a visit to the Ed Sullivan Theater for Monday's episode of "The Late Show with David Letterman."
While Silver was on CBS, lauding Dolan's passion despite Letterman's pleas to fix the Knicks — which must have been tough for the Indiana native and longtime Pacers fan to make — Keith Olbermann was on ESPN, hammering "Little Jimmy Dolan" for his colossal mishandling of what should have been a pretty simple matter:
While commentators and pundits took their opportunities to use Dolan and the moribund Knicks for batting practice, Bierman — "a tough old Brooklyn guy," as his son Aaron puts it — offered a simple suggestion for how the owner should proceed.
“What he should do is sell the Knicks,” Bierman told Gay, “and buy a Little League team in Long Island.”
Well, funny you should mention selling, Mr. Bierman. You're not the only one thinking along those lines.
From the New York Jets fans who brought you the "Fire John Idzik" billboard and website comes — you guessed it! — Knicks4Sale.com, a site calling for Dolan to put the club on the block and walk away. From Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York:
"[The email] was the 'Idzik news conference moment.' That's what we called it — when we decided that management and ownership had gone too far and it was time for the fans to do something," Jason Koeppel, a self-described die-hard fan of the Jets and Knicks from Teaneck, N.J., told ESPNNewYork.com via phone Monday night.
"This email that he had the nerve to send to one of his fans was the moment. We talked last night — the four of us — and just said, you know what, we've had enough and we've gotta do something."
"I've been a Knick fan my whole life, and the past 15 years — except for that one season where we won one playoff series — have just been a nightmare," Koeppel continued. "We've been patient, and the cost of going to games has just skyrocketed to the point of being completely out of control, so we don't attend as many games anymore, but we definitely watch on TV, and it's just one terrible season after the other.
"We're sick of having Dolan around. We're sick of his meddling. He's an embarrassment. And it's embarrassing to us to read the email that he sent to a fan, so we just felt like it was time to embarrass him."
Koeppel and company hope to do that by raising $20,000 to put toward a billboard on W. 30th Street and 7th Avenue — a two-minute walk from Madison Square Garden — that tells Dolan just how much fans would like him to disappear completely. That they've already received more than $1,000 in commitments shows just how disgruntled Knicks fans are with Dolan's leadership.
And yet, as was the case with the last fan-led movement aimed at embarrassing Dolan into taking ameliorative action in the midst of a miserable season — last March's Knicks Fan 4 Life Rally, a protest outside MSG that fell flat because it came two weeks after Dolan had hired Phil Jackson to run the show and promised to stop meddling (which, in fairness to Dolan, he's mostly seemed to since, even as Jackson's early returns have been dismal) — it doesn't seem especially likely to amount to very much.
Dolan's has absolutely no reason to sell a franchise valued at $2.5 billion — an estimate that may well be on the low side of things — for anything less than a double-Ballmer, especially considering, as Robert Silverman details for The Guardian, Dolan's other interests continue to print money, too:
Even after 15 years putting forth a howling dumpster fire of a team, they’ve been a massive financial success. Yes, Knicks fans have shown themselves to be endlessly loyal and patient, but the bulging bottom line isn’t a result of those that shell out an average of $129.38 per ticket, the highest in the league, and consistently sell out Madison Square Garden.
The real cash cow is Dolan’s in-house cable TV channel. Granted, with the current revenue-sharing plan, it’s exceedingly difficult for an NBA team to lose money to begin with, but their ownership of the MSG Network takes it to another level.
In the second quarter of FY2015, the majority of their operating income came from what the company called in their SEC filings “MSG Media”, that is “the Company’s regional sports networks, MSG Network and MSG+, collectively the ‘MSG Networks’.” There is revenue at stake in what they categorize as “MSG Sports,” but the media arm is so much more important.
Why? Because MSG is included in every basic cable package, which means that the millions of New Yorkers who couldn’t care less about the team are still fattening Dolan’s wallet every time they pay their cable bill. The Knicks can be awful and it doesn’t matter; they even have locked in, long-term agreements with Cablevision (owned by Dolan’s father) and Time Warner, such that a precipitous decline in ratings won’t really matter. The Knicks literally can’t lose ... financially.
The corporate money flowing into MSG on a nightly basis despite New York's miserable season, the regional cable network revenue filling Dolan's coffers, the laugh-it-off protection from the league office as yet another example of the Knicks "not being a model of intelligent management" ... it all congeals to create a toxic environment in which the Knicks continue to be awful, Dolan continues to behave awfully, and fans feel like their only recourse is to go out of their way to try to embarrass a billionaire son of a pioneering millionaire who was born on third and has never stopped believing he tripled.
Websites and billboards and commentaries and comedy are just about the only things anyone can lob Dolan's way, at this point. But let's be honest: if James Dolan isn't embarrassed about anything he's done with the Knicks thus far, how likely is it that he'll start getting embarrassed now?
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