NEW YORK — It was perhaps the most prophetic statement New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek has ever muttered.
A reporter had just asked him during his press conference prior to Wednesday's game with the Los Angeles Clippers about the dysfunction constantly swirling around the Knicks franchise. The latest cause for concern: Team president Phil Jackson's decision to tweet a message appearing to coyly compliment an article by Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding with the thesis that Carmelo Anthony has never been a winner and never will be.
"Has this been even worse than you expected?" the reporter asked.
Hornacek's response was telling.
"I kind of—not was warned—but expected that there was going to be something all the time," he said, with a smile stretching across his face. "It's lived up to the billing. It's been something out here. So, OK, let's go play a game and try to win."
Less than two hours later, during the first quarter of the Knicks' eventual 119-115 loss, play stopped, and the crowd began to yell. There was a commotion in the stands underneath the basket adjacent to the New York bench. Within seconds, Charles Oakley, the 53-year-old former Knicks forward, was being dragged by five security guards back into the bowels of Madison Square Garden, where he was cuffed by a member of the New York City Police Department.
"Get these cuffs off me," the 6'8" Oakley yelled outside the tunnel leading onto the MSG court. He then blamed the incident on Knicks owner James Dolan. "I didn't do anything; Dolan started it. This is bulls--t."
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There were about a dozen MSG security guards around him. Jackson was attempting to calm him down. Oakley was soon loaded into a police van around 8:50 p.m. ET and driven to a local precinct. Police sources told Bleacher Report that he was charged with three counts of assault and a misdemeanor of trespassing. He was released from the Midtown South precinct at around 11:30 p.m. with an appearance ticket.
Shortly after the incident, the Knicks released a statement, with a harsh shot at their former player serving as the kicker: "Charles Oakley came to the game tonight and behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner. He has been ejected and is currently being arrested by the New York City Police Department. He was a great Knick, and we hope he gets some help soon."
Oakley spent 10 seasons in a Knicks uniform but has been estranged from the franchise for years.
"The boss don't like me," he told Scott Cacciola of the New York Times in November. "I wouldn't mind having a sit-down dinner with Dolan. I wouldn't mind cooking him dinner. ... Might put something in it, though!"
Oakley was sitting one row behind Dolan on Wednesday night. According to the police report, Oakley got into an argument with an MSG employee and was then asked to leave. He refused, police said, and, according to the report, punched three male employees in the face (though videos of the incident captured by fans nearby didn't show Oakley doing so). None required medical attention.
Jamie Vitiello, a fan seated in the area, said Oakley was "mildly boisterous to one security guard, but nothing that seemed like he should be kicked out." Multiple other witnesses backed that account.
One person thought Oakley might have initially been irked when, upon entering his section, a security guard asked to see his ticket. Matthew Barbara, another fan sitting in the area, said Oakley cursed at the section's guard.
"But I didn't hear him say anything to Dolan," he said.
That guard, according to Vitiello, left his post soon after. Another one approached Oakley and told him to stop cursing at the security guards, and that, according to the witnesses, is when things erupted.
"[MSG security] handled it poorly," Jill Guadagno, who was seated two rows behind Oakley and next to Barbara, said. "They never said to him 'calm down.' The only interaction was them saying, 'You need to leave.'"
But all, despite being confused as to what spurred the incident, agreed that Oakley was the first to get physical. In videos of the altercation Oakely can be seen putting his right pointer finger in the face of a security guard and shoved another twice before being forcibly removed to the sound of fans chanting his name—and with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe looking on from their seats in the lower bowl.
VanDeWeghe, when asked about the incident, declined to comment.
"I thought for a second I was gonna run down there," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who played with Oakley in New York, said after the game. "But then I thought, what the hell am I gonna do?"
A couple of hours after Oakley had been shuttled out of the arena, Carmelo Anthony stood before dozens of reporters in front of his locker, once again forced to answer questions triggered by a Jackson jab.
Earlier this season, Jackson told CBS Sports Network's We Need to Talk that Anthony often holds onto the ball too much. More recently, Charley Rosen, a writer and confidant of Jackson's, wrote a column for FanRag Sports stating that Anthony "has outlived his usefulness in New York."
Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple reports that Jackson has talked to teams about trading Anthony, yet according to Anthony, who has a no-trade clause, that's a matter the two have never discussed.
Anthony was asked about drama that's been swirling around him all season and whether having to deal with so much was sapping his energy.
"I think anybody would get tired," he said. "I think if you went to work every day and had these spats about you, eventually, you'd get tired unless you were as strong as I am and learn how to deal with it and move on.
"I think anybody, any human being, at some point in time would start feeling the weight about it."
Does that mean he's now open to discussing a possible trade?
"I'm in that building every day until something is said to me directly," Anthony said.
That might be the most telling statement of them all.
There's nothing wrong with the Knicks wanting to trade Anthony. He's an aging star (33 in May) on the decline for a lottery-bound team. There is, however, a mature and professional way to go about these things. Jackson just needed to have a candid conversation with Anthony. He could have told him it's become clear this team has plateaued, that it needs a change and that he'd like to work with him and figure out options.
That's how a functional organization operates and how true leadership works. Of course, Jackson's arrival was supposed to remedy all these issues. Fans were told the presence of an all-time champion at the top of the organization would lead to stability.
Instead, the Knicks are now a rudderless franchise, with the team president appearing to disparage his star player on Twitter while apparently refusing to discuss these issues with the player himself—or even the business' customer base (Jackson hasn't spoken publicly since late September).
Knicks fans are now left supporting a team ran by a president who's alienated his best player, an owner with a poisonous relationship with a beloved former player and no one to step in and take control.
Jackson's apparent ego and arrogance are a problem, and the Knicks will be better off the moment he decides to step away. But it's also worth remembering that New York was a circus long before Jackson arrived. That's no accident either. Players, coaches and presidents have come and gone, with Dolan watching over it all.
Competent owners lead to competent organizations. The Knicks will never become the latter as long as James Dolan is in charge.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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