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Knicks owner James Dolan bans Charles Oakley from Madison Square Garden

Dan Devine
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In the days since the stunning altercation between Charles Oakley and multiple security guards at Madison Square Garden that resulted in the fan-favorite former New York Knicks power forward getting arrested and charged with three counts of assault and one count of trespassing — an incident that has led many NBA players and New York fans to question why the Knicks would treat one of their legends with such disrespect — many observers have suggested that the best way out of what has become a PR nightmare for the Knicks organization would be for owner James L. Dolan to make nice with the beloved enforcer and find a graceful way to welcome him back into the fold.

You’re not going to believe this, but hours after reportedly firing the Garden’s head of security over this fiasco, Dolan has decided to go the other way.

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Well, that’s certainly one option … and, after doubling down on their side of the story by ostensibly calling Oakley a liar on Thursday, perhaps an unsurprising one for Dolan to take.

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According to the New York Post, the statements released by MSG on Friday come “from employees who came into contact with Charles Oakley on Wednesday night before the Knicks legend’s angry confrontation with security and forcible ejection from the arena,” and claim Oakley “lashed out at them as ‘henchmen’ of Knicks owner James Dolan and accused them of being racially motivated.”

At one point in the scuffle, Oakley is alleged to have yelled: “All of you suck Dolan’s d–k!” […]

In addition, employees in the VIP areas of the Garden say Oakley tried to access an off-limits area of the arena in apparent effort to see Dolan, and a seat order taker also noticed Oakley muttering about Dolan.

A VIP escort described Oakley and his group as being “antsy … and strange.” A concierge labeled him “very vocal … and extremely pushy.” […]

“You got all those f—ing security people over them looking at me. I don’t know what the f— they’re looking at, but they’re getting on my f—ing nerves,” Oakley allegedly said.

On Thursday, after Oakley had been released by police, he gave multiple interviews insisting he hadn’t said a word to Dolan, whom Oakley says has refused to speak or meet with him over the years about the possibility of returning to the franchise in some capacity, and had done nothing to warrant encircling by MSG security prior to tempers flaring and the situation erupting into physicality. (It’s worth noting that fan-shot video published Thursday by the New York Post seems 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.)

“Send a New York cop to tell Oakley he’s gotta leave. Escort me out of the building. I have to respect that,” Oakley said during an interview on ESPN Radio’s “The Stephen A. Smith Show” on Thursday. “It was a cop there. Every time he asked me something, I did it. I did it. I did it. You can call the precinct, and I told them there. It was the other guys. They went over bounds, for no reason.”

The Knicks responded to Oakley’s media blitz — and to an outpouring of support for the 19-year NBA veteran from past and presentday players — by issuing an “updated statement” Thursday afternoon that doubled down and essentially called Oakley a liar.

“There are dozens of security staff, employees and NYPD that witnessed Oakley’s abusive behavior,” the Knicks wrote. “It started when he entered the building and continued until he was arrested and left the building. Every single statement we have received is consistent in describing his actions. Everything he said since the incident is pure fiction.”

Dolan made a rare media appearance on ESPN Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show” on Friday afternoon to address the situation. Instantly, he walked back the report Oakley is barred for life.

“Well, I saw that they turned into a lifetime ban — I’ll talk about that in a little bit, but it’s not necessarily a lifetime ban,” Dolan said. “I think the most important thing with that is, you know, we need to keep the Garden a place that’s comfortable and safe for everybody who goes there. So, anybody who comes to the Garden, whether they’ve been drinking too much alcohol, been looking for a fight, they’re abusive, disrespectful to the fans — they’re going to be ejected, and they’re going to be banned. Because everybody has a right to come to that game, to come to those games, and enjoy them, and no one has the right to take that away from everybody else.

“In this case, that did happen, and so, we are going to put the ban in place and hopefully it won’t be forever.”

Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman James Dolan reacts. (AP)
Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman James Dolan reacts. (AP)

Dolan stipulated that Oakley was a great Knick during his decade-long tenure in New York, and said that he loved and admired the way the hard-nosed forward played. He granted that fans’ admiration of Oakley has probably grown over time, especially because of the tough, gritty way he played, which Dolan suggested might make him more beloved now, “especially considering how we’re doing.”

Asked if he’s worried Knicks fans will overwhelmingly oppose this decision, Dolan leaned again on the safety and security issue.

“Am I concerned about it? Yes, but at the same time, the No. 1 concern always has to be the safety and the comfort of the fans,” Dolan said. “And whether it’s Charles Oakley or Charles Lindbergh or [his father, former Knicks owner] Charles Dolan, you do those things, you come to the Garden and you behave that way, and 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. And yes, I understand that he was a big star and a Knick, etc., but that doesn’t excuse people from that kind of behavior.”

Dolan accused Oakley of coming to the arena for Wednesday’s Knicks game against the Los Angeles Clippers with an “agenda, with a mission in mind.” He said he didn’t know if that agenda had to do specifically with him — though he did note that he’d heard from Garden employees that Oakley was “using my name a lot” — but that the decision to bar Oakley from the building was “not because I’m nervous, but because you can’t do what he did.”

“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.”

Dolan spoke briefly about how the Oakley incident contributed to his decision to fire Frank Benedetto, the senior vice president for security at the Madison Square Garden Company, on Friday morning.

“We weren’t perfect here, and I think that Charles never should have made it to his seats. And that’s on us, and we’re doing things to remedy that, and make sure it doesn’t happen again with anybody,” Dolan said. “[…] I mean, [the Oakley incident] certainly was [part of the decision to fire Benedetto]. That was just a situation where the person didn’t work out, and that was probably the last straw. We’re obviously looking at everything that we did here along the way to what happened, and that’s one of the casualties.”

Asked why Oakley would have offered a story of how things transpired on Wednesday that differs entirely from what the Knicks claim went down, Dolan looked to be at a loss for words … until he reached back for the final line of the Knicks’ first statement on the matter, the one about hoping Oakley “gets some help soon,” which raised so many eyebrows and so much ire among fans, especially coming from a franchise headed by an owner who has struggled with alcoholism and is in recovery.

“I can’t explain why he’s — I mean, we have videotape, we have dozens of statements, etc.” Dolan said. “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? 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.”

No. No, it did not.

“I do think that Charles needs help,” Dolan added. “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.”

Dolan also briefly fielded questions about team president Phil Jackson’s stewardship of the team, and specifically about the ongoing drama surrounding Jackson’s relationship with star forward Carmelo Anthony. Dolan largely declined to answer those questions, citing his promise upon hiring Jackson in 2014 not to meddle in basketball operations, and as his ongoing intent to let Jackson do his job as he sees fit:

Dolan left the door open to a reconciliation with Oakley, but put the onus for resolving any tensions on the ex-enforcer.

“There was nothing that would make me happier than to see Charles Oakley be at center court being honored with the rest of his teammates,” he said. “All we need for that to happen is for Charles to address these behaviors. […] He’s a great Knick, we’d love to have him. […] He should be up there recognized, because the fans love him. But this behavior doesn’t work with that. Until he can address that and get it under control, we probably can’t do that.”

Later in the interview, Dolan emphasized that the decision to ban Oakley came not solely as a result of Wednesday’s incident, but rather as a response to a pattern of behavior over the years.

“This was not just the day before yesterday incident. We’ve had a relationship with Charles since he retired and left the Knicks,” Dolan said. “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 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 who are gonna help those fans find them seats, get them food, feel comfortable, they were abused. And they were abused in a very horrible, nasty way, with racial overtones, sexual overtones, the stuff you never really want to hear. How do you bring your kids to a game if you think that’s going to happen?”

And so, for now, the Knicks have officially ostracized Oakley, which will likely go over just great with the New York fans who chanted Oakley’s name during Thursday’s New York Rangers hockey game, and who will be attending Friday’s matchup between the Knicks and Denver Nuggets at MSG.

“We have great relationships with all of our alumni,” Dolan told Kay. “This is an anomaly.”

It sure is.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!