Feb. 8, 2017 is a date that will go down in infamy as the culmination of months of frustration for one of the most iconic organizations in all of professional sports.
After the New York Knicks built a comfortable 95-88 lead at the end of three quarters against the fearsome Los Angeles Clippers in their famous home arena of Madison Square Garden, they failed to endure for the remainder of the contest, conceding 31 points in the following 12 minutes and choking away their chance at an upset victory.
The main point of intrigue, however, lay outside the court, where former Knicks All-Star and fan favorite Charles Oakley was escorted out of the arena following an altercation with security. Multiple reports indicate that Oakley may have been intoxicated, and heckled team owner James Dolan, who was sitting nearby. Dolan went so far as to suggest that Oakley has been struggling with alcoholism for some time. Oakley has since denied these claims, but the damage to his reputation has already been done, tainted with controversy and uncertainty.
It’s hard not to see this incident as anything but indicative of the dissonant relationship between Knicks management and players that has contributed to the collective incompetence and disappointment continually on display in Madison Square Garden.
It didn’t have to be this way – indeed, it wasn’t supposed to be. After recruiting fabled coach Phil Jackson, known for leading the Jordan-era Bulls and Bryant-era Lakers to a combined 11 championships, to take over as team president and inking superstar Carmelo Anthony to a five-year, $124 million contract, the Knicks appeared to possess the foundation for yet another Jackson-led NBA dynasty. New York seemed ready for a return to glory, prompting energetic circulation of championship hopes among the team’s dedicated, vocal fandom.
Fast forward to the present, and this experiment has spectacularly failed. Misfires in free agency signings and trades resulted in a lack of team chemistry that has crippled the organization. By far and away the biggest meltdown, however, has been between Anthony and Jackson, with the latter failing to come to his superstar’s defense when faced with criticism and even piling on some of his own for good measure. Jackson continually lashes out at the All-Star he himself signed to a long-term contract with a no-trade clause, essentially referring to Anthony as a ball hog whose selfish nature as a player cannot be changed. This has led to further scrutiny of Anthony, which in turn has caused a drop in performance (most of his stats are below his career average), leading to more criticism from Jackson and the media and prompting a vicious cycle of mutually assured destruction.
It seems obvious that Jackson either wants Anthony to wave his no-trade clause so he can ship his superstar to another team and rebuild the Knicks from the ground up, or is indirectly asking to be fired in order to escape this sinking ship before further staining his legacy. Dolan has already confirmed that he will not be firing Jackson for fear of losing the trust of future employees, which means this situation will be gridlocked until Anthony complies. In summary, the Knicks are a dumpster fire, featuring nothing but aging veterans who seem destined to clash with each other on a long, drawn-out descent into retirement with no talk of playoffs, much less championships, in sight.
The Knicks used to embody the very best of New York’s theatricality, drama and magic in what was, for many, a sanctuary in Madison Square Garden. Now they’d be lucky to get compared to a daytime soap opera reeking of melodrama. The mighty have indeed fallen from grace, leaving New York basketball in a state of desolate misery, with an increasingly impatient fanbase clamoring for change. Jackson has failed. Anthony has failed. Dolan has failed. The Knicks are an embarrassment, and it’s time to clean house.