In the recent aftermath of a pretty thrilling Super Bowl XLV featuring two of the NFL's flagship franchises, if not most level headed ownership groups, New York Knick fans have a right to extrapolate and wonder how a man of James Dolan's abundantly absurd ways and means has been able to so harmfully impose himself on what was also once an elite franchise, if not one that is just now beginning to see the light of day after a decade or more of utter despair.
This chain goes back to 1994 when Charles Dolan — father of James — and his company Cablevision gathered with Madison Square Garden and by extension it's two marquee tenants, the New York Rangers and New York Knicks, to form one of the powerhouse partnerships in all of professional sports.
It seemed a coup for the Long Island based cable provider as only months earlier the Rangers had won their first Stanley Cup in more than four decades and the Pat Riley led Knicks had pressed Hakeem Olajuwan's Houston Rockets to Game Seven of the NBA Finals.
But by 1999 Jim Dolan — of little sports acumen, but an able sailor & lead singer for the blues band J.D. & the Straight Shot — had for all intents and purposes wrested control of Madison Square Garden away from his father and with the exception of an NBA Finals charge that same year by the Jeff Van Gundy, five and a few unremarkable playoff appearances by their brethren Rangers, things have never been quite the same at the World's Most Famous Arena.
In fact over the past decade or more the Garden has come to resemble an almost bottomless pit of despair, and on the hard court side seemingly decent men like Scott Layden, Lenny Wilkens, Don Chaney, even the noted vagabond Larry Brown were swallowed up in full — but the one who did damage like never before was former Detroit Piston guard and Knick nemesis Isiah Thomas.
He was hired by Dolan in December of 2003 and by the end of the 2005/2006 season the Knicks had the highest payroll in the league and the second-worst record. He traded away several future draft picks to Chicago in a deal for Eddy Curry including what turned out to be two lottery picks in talent-rich drafts.
During the 2007 Draft, Thomas traded for Zack Randolph and Fred Jones, added the legendary Jerome James and skinny big man Jared Jeffries via free agency and thus armed, (with Thomas now coaching as well as directing), the Knicks flew to a franchise record 59 defeats.
Later came the tawdry tale told by former Knick executive, Anucha Browne-Sanders who had accused Dolan of firing her out of spite after she'd complained about Thomas having sexually harassed her.
By Lord Jim's accounting, the accusations may have seemed far fetched. Browne-Sanders was hardly the type of short skirt wearing, salty dream provoking bombshell one normally associates with the notion of unwanted approaches.
But in the legal aftermath of her accusations it became clear that Thomas had become obsessed with imposing himself on this woman, unleashing any variety of X rated or even menacing verbal attacks upon her person when she would not succumb to his repeated heat seeking advances.
The court ended up ruling in Browne-Sanders favor. Dolan had to pay $3 million of what turned out to be an $11 million settlement. MSG was responsible for paying the remainder.
One would figure that would have been enough of Isiah Thomas for anyone — at least any reasonably sane person, but here we are on the precipice of Spring 2011 and we keep hearing tales of Thomas' continued influence on James Dolan, even to the point where a return engagement in some frighteningly official capacity is ceaselessly bandied about as a potential Madison Square Garden reality.
And where does all this leave current Knick President, Donnie Walsh, who in two plus seasons has somehow managed to get out from under Thomas' mess and put the team in position to steal Carmelo Anthony away from those almost equally certifiable Denver Nuggets and make their first serious playoff run in more than a decade?
Dangling, that's where. Dolan not only seems incapable of expressing gratitude for the ongoing reversal of fortunes much less extend Walsh for a year — at least at this point — so the Brooklyn born septuagenarian can at least see thru what he started upon his return to New York in 2008.
In fact it appears as if Dolan may now channel his inner George Steinbrenner, inserting himself into the negotiations with Denver ownership, (though in fairness a lot of that comes from ESPN, the folks who repeatedly assured us of a deal between the Nuggets and Nets and recently advanced the 'Melo to L.A. theory even though response from Laker management was no such deal, involving center Andrew Bynum, had ever been discussed.)
It's all enough to drive an every day Prez/GM about crazy, but the savvy even handed Walsh continues to play it cool, refuses to allow the Knick core of young talent to be stripped as the NBA trade deadline draws ever closer.
Two weeks and ticking, and we still have no idea if this 'Melo drama will go right down to the wire, if a deal with the Knicks is in the stars or Anthony ends up a playoff rental elsewhere with the ability to go entirely free this coming summer.
By now though it's pretty apparent Donnie Walsh finds either scenario acceptable and in the alternative would probably be satisfied with adding big man Marc Gasol and another talented body in a continuing effort to round out his current roster.
But the veteran Walsh may not have the final say in the matter because even though you rarely if ever hear his boss James Dolan talking you can at this point sense his convulsive panting and with the Isiah bug in his ear very likely urging him to the kind of impulsive action that Thomas himself is remembered for in his tumultuous New York stay, no one really knows what to expect.
And that means an awful lot of eyes will be on the Knick owner for the next fourteen days.
Will the teams rabid fan base end up finding there is actually some lucid brain matter rattling around inside the man's cranium? Or will sweet singing Jimmy Dolan simply end up reinforcing the vacuous impression he has made on New Yorkers over the past ten years or so?
With potential franchise savior Donnie Walsh in limbo and the unpleasant specter of Isiah Thomas looming the future of the franchise may just be at stake.
The clock is ticking.
Knick fans hope it isn't going — cuckoo, cuckoo.
And that's it for today,
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