From the year 2000 to the present day, New York Knicks governer
James Dolan has been despised by most New York Knicks fans. I don’t
think we’ll have too many people who argue that point with me, and
the reasons as to why definitely vary.
First, let’s go over the stats.
For the last 21 years, Dolan has cycled through eight
front-office leaders, 14 head coaches and countless supposed
“saviors" with subpar winning percentages, all while an arms-folded
Dolan was pouting on the sideline game after game. That goes
without mentioning a number of lifetime bans, including beloved
Knicks warrior Charles Oakley, who was the heart and soul of the
franchise. The image of Oakley being accosted by Madison Square
Garden security guards will probably anger Knicks fans for the rest
of their days. And in addition to all of that, prior to this
season, the Knicks only mustered up five playoff appearances, four
winning records and one postseason series win, while recording more
losses than any other NBA team for the last two decades with Dolan
at the helm of the organization.
The perception was that he was a boss who doesn't seem to
understand his job, but kept meddling in everyone else’s. He never
allowed the people he put in place to actually do their job, and
fumbled any potential superstars signing with the Knicks who may
have genuinely wanted to come to the Mecca. Further, the perception
has been that he undervalues fan-favorite players when free agency
arrives, and they leave as a result -- something that Knicks fans
are currently praying to the basketball gods doesn’t happen with
But nowadays, the feeling is different in New York, as the
Knicks are currently 37-29 and would be the fourth seed in the
Eastern Conference if the playoffs started today. They say winning
cures everything, and now we see longtime frustrated,
over-emotional New Yorkers repping their Knicks and talking about
their team with pride.
Full disclosure: I grew up a Knicks fan. My grandfather was,
too. We were both passionate, emotional fans that wore our heart on
our sleeve when it came to our Knicks. We took losses to heart and
yelled at the television screen. We cheered when we won, and felt
the Knicks were going to win the championship for many, many years.
So I can relate to the emotional fans in New York. I felt their
pain in years past, as well as their jubilation this season as the
Knicks faithful definitely have a lot to cheer about.
Derrick Rose, who everyone in the NBA is rooting for, has had a
comeback-of-the-year-worthy story in one of the toughest places to
achieve that, New York. The same Knicks fans who booed him in his
first stint are now singing his praises -- a difficult task to
achieve. We actually see Derrick Rose smiling, which was definitely
not the case during his first stint there.
Then you have Julius Randle, whom Charles Oakley told SiriusXM
Radio “is a better version of Zion Williamson.” The praise doesn’t
get much higher than that.
Even when the Knicks lose, they are exciting to watch. They play
hard the entire game, leaving it all out on the court and giving
maximum effort. It's reminiscent of the good ol' days with Patrick
Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Derek Harper,
Greg Anthony, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson. Those Knicks
teams played with all heart, all the time.
And Randle, Rose, Obadiah Toppin, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley,
Nerlens Noel, Reggie Bullock and Co. are giving maximum effort
night-in and night-out,
So, the question now becomes: has the tide shifted in the
perception of James Dolan? Does the success of the team this year
erase the anger and vitriol New York fans felt for two decades due
to the perceived mismanagement of Dolan? Will the “Fire Dolan”
signs that once populated MSG read “Dolan Is The Man!" now?
On my radio show in Washington D.C. with Dave Zirin, "The Collision: Sports And
Politics," basketball historian and NBA insider Brandon “Scoop
B” Robinson gave us his opinion:
“Many people thought it was a foregone conclusion that the Nets
were going to be the only ticket in town. And the Knicks had
different plans this season... When you look at the Knicks, and you
look at Dolan specifically, Knicks fans are passionate fans and
knowledgeable fans. But I think Knicks fans were, one: living in
the past, and two: did not have the accoutrement to make them happy
to be Knicks fans," Robinson said.
"I feel like they’ve always laid the blame on Dolan because they
weren’t a good team... But now, those criticisms have quieted down
quite a bit. The Knicks are a feel-good story for the NBA as a
fourth-place team if the playoffs started today. I think Dolan is
off the hook in the eyes of Knicks fans this year, but I still do
think they gotta finish what they started. I think the Knicks fans
had a right to be upset, but it’s only one year. The last time they
made the playoffs was 2013, but this year, it’s a different story,
so now Knicks fans can drink cucumber water and sprout sandwiches
with the crust cut off and be happy.”
ESPN’s Scoop Jackson has a very different opinion, as he told me
for the purpose of this article.
“To me, Dolan is not getting a pass, he’s simply being
overlooked. We all know what is happening right now with the Knicks
is happening in spite of him, not because of him," Jackson said.
"Real basketball people are back cheering for the Knicks because we
are cheering for Thibs, Leon Rose, Worldwide Wes and Derrick Rose.
All of them are underdogs in their own special way, and New Yorkers
know how each one of them has been counted out by larger parts of
society during parts of their careers. Any applause for Dolan (if
there is any) is for him hiring Leon and Wes, and getting out of
the way for one of the few times during his tenure as owner. So in
a lot of our minds, Dolan’s not even there and none of this ‘New
Knicks’ love has anything to do with him.”
Elements of both opinions from the two Scoops may very well be
true. And for those that don’t know, James Dolan isn’t only the
governor of the New York Knicks, but he is executive chairman and
CEO of Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden
Entertainment, and executive chairman of MSG Networks. And as the
companies' chairman, Dolan oversees all operations within the
company and also supervises day-to-day operations of its
professional sports teams -- the New York Knicks and New York
Rangers -- as well as their regional sports networks, which include
MSG Network and MSG Plus.
I say all that to say this: he’s not going anywhere, whether the
Knicks do well or do terrible.
But this season, the Knicks have definitely given New York
plenty to cheer about.