James Dolan, Do The Right Thing
Spike Lee, the award-winning director, and longtime Knicks superfan found himself in the middle of a very public dispute with Knicks' owner James Dolan this week. Lee says he was ambushed by Knicks security before the game for using an employee entrance, an entrance he claims he's had regular access to during his time as a Knicks season ticket holder. The encounter between Lee and Knicks' security was captured on camera by a passerby lurking in MSG.
What has come to follow has been an oddly timed press release, an impromptu TV interview, Instagram posts, and rebuttals, with the final blow being a proclamation of separation, at least for the remainder of this season. The incident left another black eye on a season filled with its fair share of bumps and bruises, this episode between Dolan and Lee is emblematic of more significant rift existing between Knicks management and its core fanbase.
Marred in all of this ugliness is newly appointed Knicks President Leon Rose, the esteemed agent with a long track record of success, whose hire was announced the day before the Lee debacle. It's as if the basketball gods saw it fit to baptize Rose in the dysfunction, to remind poor Knick fans of their place in basketball fandom. With the momentum of Rose's signing fading and the season on the verge of the ending, Knicks fans must wrestle with the disappointment of another failed season and the potential loss/defection of one the team's more prominent supporters.
Lee's been a Knick season ticket holder for more than 30 seasons, but he's been a Knick fan his entire life, he can trace his affinity for the Knicks back to their titles days in the 1970's with the likes of Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, and Willis Reed walking the sidelines. Lee's "He Got Game" reads like a love letter to the NYC hoops culture and is regarded as a seminal basketball classic. As a superfan, Lee is linked the Pacer's "8 points in 9 seconds" at the Garden, with Reggie giving the now-infamous choke sign to Lee as he sat pat, in his cush, front row seat.
For better or worse, as most true fans are, Lee has remained loyal to the franchise despite almost 20 plus recent years of underachieving and embarrassment, his willingness to fly the banner has only heightened his stature amongst Knick fans. Unlike most actors, politicians, or financiers sitting front row at Knicks games, Lee has seemingly transcended his labels, fans sitting in the nosebleeds don't see a famed movie director, they see the hometown kid from Brooklyn supporting "his guys." It doesn't seem as if the damage caused by the past week's "elevatorgate" will cause irreparable harm to Lee's relationship with the Knicks. Lee states that he's done coming to the Garden for the remainder of this season but that he will be back next season to cheer on the orange and blue.
I'm not here to place blame, but the onus has to be management to rectify public disagreements in a manner that doesn't continue to alienate the fan base. The Oakley removal was ugly, the Carmelo Anthony-Phil Jackson tiff was just as unsettling. If Dolan is serious about trying to make the Knicks winner and making New York an attractive destination for potential free agents, he's going to have to trust his decision-makers and brand advisors to make the changes necessary to sway public perception. New York is already one of the most robust markets to play in; players don't need the added scrutiny that comes with the dysfunction.