By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) A fair number of readers (I use that word loosely because so many vocal people read only a headline or tweet annotation) responded to my column last week calling for members of the sports community to continue talking politics in these volatile times.
This wasn’t surprising, little gets insecure snowflake sports fans more riled up than mentioning the P-word entering their safe space away from “reality.” Though it is an odd Venn diagram of people who claim to want their sports experiences free of the political yet love the involvement of the national anthem, “God Bless America,” the troops, cartoonishly field-sized flags and Chris Christie jumping around in a suite like the ice cream truck broke down on his block.
So Wednesday evening, I’m watching sports. I’m losing myself in good, wholesome sports (except for the Bulls). Yay sports.
Besides a sweet matchup between the Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild, there was a national NBA broadcast. Knicks vs. Clippers. New York against Los Angeles. Coastal big markets. Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Decent stuff to escape into and away from anything political.
And then the Charles Oakley incident happened.
To recap, Oakley, the former Knick, attended the game at Madison Square Garden on his own dime and was quickly made to leave his seat near Knicks owner James Dolan, with whom he has had a sour relationship from a distance for years. Several videos from attendees and the national TV broadcast captured what went down from the time security confronted Oakley, the physicality that ensued that escalated to Oakley being forcibly escorted from his seat and into a tunnel, where New York police later arrested him.
It was an unpleasant situation to watch unfold on TV and on social media. But at least it wasn’t political, right?
I mean, yeah, it involved a failed musician (but still trying, bless his heart) billionaire beneficiary of his dad’s money and nepotism. He’s the cable world’s equivalent of a slumlord, a union buster who recently made the Rockettes that work for him perform at an event that made some of them extremely uncomfortable for valid reasons and who put sexual harasser Isiah Thomas in charge of the WNBA team that Dolan owns.
But he owns the NBA’s most valuable yet most underperforming franchise, too, so something involving James Dolan at a basketball game has to be a sports thing. Not politics.
The other involved party is a person of color who by multiple accounts (from people other than those paid by Dolan) did nothing wrong besides intimidate a rich turd by his mere presence. Such a rare occurrence to happen in these United States. Oakley himself told multiple outlets that he never said anything to Dolan.
From Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
Oakley told me that he purchased his own tickets and was seated two rows behind Garden Chairman James Dolan. When several Knicks officials became aware of where Oakley was seated, security guards approached Oakley and asked him why he was here.
“They were staring at me,” he told me. “They asked me to leave and I said I’m not leaving.”
The Knicks maintain that Oakley is lying.
Other witnesses near Oakley’s seat said “they did not see Oakley exchange any words with Dolan or try to provoke him,” the New York Times reported.
Anyway, Oakley is a beloved former player who represented a time in franchise history when the Knicks were annual contending badasses that never quite went all the way but also were never embarrassing. He doesn’t get free tickets, as is pretty customary with teams and their former players, and the Knicks’ 70th anniversary celebration this year hasn’t involved him whatsoever. So this is a sports thing. Surely not politics.
The rich prick generally loathed by Knicks fans, New Yorkers on the whole, basketball fans, nuns and various other groups who don’t stand for oligarchs, Dolan used his personal and public law enforcement on the scary man of color who dared sit in his vicinity let alone somehow make it past his banning him from MSG entirely. Dolan used his hired men to embarrass and remove the man of color in public. These men put their hands on the man of color in public. The man of color, provoked and feeling all the eyes in a sports Mecca close in on him, responded aggressively and physically after the rich man by paid enforcer extension took the man of color’s body away from himself. The man of color was taken to the ground by multiple security personnel. He was cuffed and patronized by another face of Knicks futility, Phil Jackson. Then police took the man of color who paid to see a basketball game to jail because a rich prick felt uncomfortable. The status quo was again victorious.
And because the person of color is still alive, this was about sports. Definitely not a microcosm of American history.
The mouth of the team that can’t make its owner look bad got out in front of the situation Wednesday night with a fake compliment buried in a release about the system working as it always has and was long ago designed to. Oh, and there was a baseless insinuation that the scary black man may have mental health issues.
“Help for what?” Oakley told the New York Post regarding the Knicks’ insinuation. “That’s crazy. I don’t need help. I’m with people all the time. I go out for dinner this and that. He said I need help. For what? I was only there four minutes.”
Four minutes of good ol’ sports, though, Oak. There’s nothing political in trivializing mental health as though the Knicks are trying to win a breakup in front of their Facebook friends.
While most who aren’t paid by him are hesitant to outright defend Dolan, some in the “haven’t watched the NBA since the non-political Jordan retired” clan at least still criticized Oakley for his physical response to being dealt with physically. Demanding a man be respectful to subjective authority after he has ceased to be respected is a tale as American as apple pie. The status quo presumption that badges and lanyards own your body is ingrained in our fabric, as is “serve and protect” applying only to those who respect “law and order” and other code words.
Let’s check some stats. The Knicks won 70 playoff games in Charles Oakley’s 10 years on the team. In the 19 years Dolan has owned them, they’ve won nine playoff games. One of those two people used various privileges to his advantage at the expense of someone without those privileges. The other was physically removed from an arena for apparently violating nothing in the contractual agreement on the back of his paid ticket and sent to jail. It all went down during a game people were taking in to get away from “reality.” Good thing it showed itself Wednesday night.
There. I stuck to sports.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.