James L. Dolan, the owner of the Knicks, said on Friday that Charles Oakley, a former star of the team, had been barred from Madison Square Garden, although he held out the possibility that the ban would not be permanent.
Dolan said he was taking the action because of what occurred during Wednesday night’s Knicks game at the Garden, in which Oakley engaged in a shoving match with security guards not far from where Dolan was sitting.
Oakley was then led out of the arena in handcuffs and taken to a local police precinct, where he was charged with misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault and criminal trespass.
Dolan made his disclosure about the ban on Michael Kay’s afternoon program on ESPN Radio. He said he had loved watching Oakley play basketball for the Knicks, “but my No. 1 concern has to be the safety of the fans.” He said Oakley had acted belligerently Wednesday night from the time he entered the arena and never should have been allowed to take his seat near the court.
“It’s very clear to us that Charles Oakley came into the Garden with an agenda, with a mission in mind,” Dolan said. “From the moment he stepped into the Garden, from the moment he walked through the first set of doors, he began with his behavior.”
He added, “I understand he was a big star, but that doesn’t excuse people from that kind of behavior.” Dolan also said, however, that he hoped that at some point the Knicks and Oakley, who have long been at odds, might be able to make amends and that Oakley might even be on the Garden court in some future ceremony honoring the Knicks teams he played for.
And he said the Knicks would be willing to assist Oakley in getting help for what he strongly suggested were personal problems.
Oakley has disputed the notion that he was responsible for Wednesday’s altercation, and some fans who were nearby when the incident took place said they had not seen or heard Oakley acting inappropriately before security guards approached him.
In addition, neither Oakley nor the many fans and players in his corner are likely to take kindly to the second suggestion in three days by the Knicks that Oakley, who is 52, needs some kind of “help” for his behavior.
Dolan, who rarely engages with the news media, appeared on Kay’s show in the wake of the public uproar over the incident.
Knicks fans, frustrated with how the team has performed for much of the last decade and a half under Dolan’s ownership, and current and former players who admire the tough work ethic that Oakley displayed on the court have all taken his side in the dispute. That, in turn, has a created a public-relations nightmare for a Knicks franchise that was already dealing with a season that was falling apart.
For that reason, there were some expectations that the Knicks might choose to reach out to Oakley with a peace gesture of sorts, in part to put a halt to all the negative publicity coming their way. Dolan did a little bit of that in the radio interview, but the ban is likely to be what gets the most attention by far, along with Dolan’s implication that Oakley had posed a danger to other fans on Wednesday.
The Knicks have also been dealing with the fallout from the continuing criticism that the team president, Phil Jackson, has aimed at the team’s current star, Carmelo Anthony.
Dolan, in the radio interview, maintained that he would continue to stay out of Jackson’s way despite the dismal results Jackson has produced in his nearly three years as the team’s president.
Jackson has a five-year contract, and Dolan said that “whether I like the results or don’t like the results, I’m going to honor that agreement all the way to the end.”
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