Charles Oakley’s never been one to back down from a fight, and he doesn’t much feel like doing it now … so he will see the New York Knicks in court.
Four months after being arrested and hauled out of Madison Square Garden following an altercation with security guards at a Knicks game, the former Knicks forward and longtime fan favorite on Friday rejected a plea deal that would have dismissed the four charges he faces — assault, aggravated harassment, criminal trespass and harassment — and cleared his criminal record provided he maintain “good behavior” for six months. Instead, Oakley “requested a trial to fight those charges,” according to Ian Begley of ESPN.com. He will go to trial on Aug. 4.
Just before the halfway point of the opening quarter of the Knicks’ nationally televised Feb. 8 matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, ESPN’s cameras captured the 53-year-old Oakley shoving what was reportedly a Madison Square Garden security guard near courtside before being hauled off by a slew of security personnel and taken away from the court.
What preceded the altercation remained unclear.
“Charles Oakley came to the game tonight and behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner,” the Knicks’ public relations team said in a statement issued shortly after the incident. “He has been ejected and is currently being arrested by the New York City Police Department. He was a great Knick and we hope he gets some help soon.”
The accounts of several eyewitnesses differed. Some suggested Oakley had incited things by yelling at Knicks owner James L. Dolan, with whom Oakley has long had a frosty relationship. Others said they never saw Oakley exchange words with Dolan or attempt to provoke him in any way.
In the days that followed, Oakley publicly maintained his innocence. The 53-year-old insisted that that he hadn’t said a word to Dolan to provoke the incident with security, and said he’d barely been in the Garden five minutes before he’d been approached and told he needed to leave. He claimed that he’d been approached in similar fashion by Garden security in the past, though matters had never escalated to a physical level.
Oakley claimed that this one did only because one of the security guards made contact with him first. Fan-shot video published by the New York Post seemed to indicate that the eruption came only after Oakley fell to the ground while one of the several security guards crowded him held his left arm.
“It was the other guys,” Oakley said during an appearance on Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN Radio show. “They went over bounds, for no reason. I might have touched some guys, but they touched me. I got a right. So, they want to charge me with three counts [of assault], I’m going to have to go to court and see what happens.”
The Knicks continued to hew to their version of events, though, issuing a second statement the day after the incident claiming that “dozens of security staff, employees and NYPD […] witnessed Oakley’s abusive behavior,” and calling the longtime NBA enforcer’s recounting ” pure fiction.”
Dolan even made a rare media appearance, going on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN Radio to say that the Knicks were banning Oakley from MSG in the interest of preserving “the safety and the comfort of the fans.”
“From the moment he stepped into the Garden — I mean, the moment he stepped through the first set of doors — he began with this behavior,” Dolan said. “Abusive behavior. Disrespectful behavior. Stuff that I don’t think you’d want to say on the radio […] and it just accelerated and 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 and arrested.”
Asked why Oakley would lie about what transpired, Dolan offered a troubling insinuation.
“I’m quite sure that everything that we’ve given the press is very, very accurate,” he said. “So, I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe he doesn’t remember it? I don’t know. I think, to me, I mean, Charles has got a problem. I’ve said this before, we’ve said it before, we said it one time that he’s his own worst problem. He has a problem.
“People need to understand that. That he has a problem with anger. That he’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol, we don’t know. But those behaviors, of being physically and verbally abusive, you know, those are personality problems.”
“I do think that Charles needs help,” Dolan continued. “He can’t want to have the things that have happened to him, particularly since he retired as a player. They aren’t good. He’s had many physical altercations, right? He’s been arrested. He’s had a lot of trouble. And it all seems to stem from his anger. That can’t be something that he intended to have happen. Maybe he doesn’t remember, but I think he’s somewhat in denial.”
Oakley responded to the allegations, saying he is not an alcoholic.
Several days later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement calling the Oakley-Dolan fiasco “beyond disheartening,” and saying that he’d brokered a meeting between the two parties at the league offices that was joined via telephone by Michael Jordan, Oakley’s longtime friend and owner of the Charlotte Hornets. One day after that, the MSG ban was lifted, but Oakley didn’t exactly rush to make nice with Dolan, whom he termed “a control freak” who is “on the level” of disgraced and ousted former Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
During his court appearance on Friday, Oakley was offered “an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal — an agreement that would lead to charges being dropped if Oakley stays out of trouble for a set time and complies with an unspecified order of protection,” according to ESPN’s Begley. Through his attorney, Alex Spiro — whom you might remember from representing Thabo Sefolosha in his 2015 lawsuit against the New York Police Department, in which the Atlanta Hawks forward was found not guilty on all counts — Oakley declined that offer, preferring the opportunity to go to court and clear his name.
“That’s what he wants,” Spiro said, according to James C. McKinley Jr. of the New York Times.
On his way out of the courtroom, the forward who had starred for the Knicks from 1988 through 1998 was asked what he thought about the coming trial.
“It’s part of life, part of life,” he said. “I love my chances.”
MSG declined comment, according to Begley.
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