Dear Mr. James L. Dolan,
Recently, I touched upon five pressing questions that are sure to define your New York Knicks off-season. We already know who the coach will be – for now, anyway. (Unconfirmed reports indicate that coach Mike Woodson’s deal is for two years with a team option for a third.) We have a pretty good idea who will be the team’s point guard, too.
That said – and notwithstanding the fact that you inexplicably, and perhaps forebodingly, chose to announce Woodson’s new deal at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend – what we don’t know is whether any combination of coach and point guard can successfully navigate, let alone survive, your Garden-gauntlet.
Let’s face it, in many circles, the Knicks, despite [barely] making the playoffs in successive seasons, remain a laughing stock. Hopelessly dysfunctional, endlessly capped out, unapologetically controversial. And there is no denying that through the undulating twists and turns of each and every roster move, coaching change, and self-induced sideshow, one constant remains.
That constant, of course, Sir, is you.
I thought Jared Dubin touched on something interesting relative to the average Knicks fan’s feelings towards you:
Maybe it took me too long to realize it, but I do now. I don’t root for a basketball team. I root for a business that just so happens to have as one of its components a group of guys who go out on the court 82 (or 66) times a year and try to throw a ball in a hoop more times than another group of guys. The owner of the team is far more interested in his business ventures and raising ticket prices and how many names he can put up on the Madison Square Garden marquee than he is in building a stable organization that is dedicated to winning championships. Mr. Dolan, for all his wealth and power, isn’t concerned with the Knicks as a team so much as he is concerned with them as a marketing, ticket-selling and money-making enterprise.
Initially, I was sort of in agreement with Jared’s sentiments, especially in light of the access granted to me by your P.R. staff during the 2011-12 season. After all, the machine that is the Garden is certainly a business. And big business, at that. But upon further reflection, I am not quite so certain that you – head-scratching and oft-meddlesome decisions aside – do not care about the Knicks winning a championship.
Consider that even Larry Brown, whose one-year stint as Knicks coach in 2005-06 (23-59) was the second-worst of his illustrious 30-year professional coaching career, doesn’t believe you to be the capital-centric Grinch you have been cast as:
“During my stay, my biggest problem is I didn’t establish a relationship with Dolan. I went through the chain of command and that was a mistake. I told Woodson, [Dolan] wants to win,” Brown recently told Marc Berman of the New York Post.
If Brown, who departed MSG under dubious circumstances, at best, still thinks that you want to win, there must be at least a kernel of truth to the sentiment, no? After all, you certainly do not need money. By many accounts you are controlling, paranoid, stubborn and obtuse, but if your modus operandi was solely motivated by the bottom line, why on earth would you subject yourself to the endless streams of criticism re: your limitless (and historically questionable) spending on the franchise?
Something just doesn’t add up.
But since I am not Professor Charles Xavier, I have absolutely no clue what you are actually thinking. And therein lies the problem. There are endless theories on what goes on behind closed doors at the Garden – and it seems like those hypotheses invariably end by concluding “that f*cking Dolan is just the worst, amirite?!” – but until you, Sir, demonstrate the slightest public indication that you care about shaping your own legacy, and/or that of your entire organization, it seems implausible that an NBA Championship will ever come to 33rd and 8th.
We all know that last season was a roller coaster ride of epic, unprecedented proportions, yet somehow, inexplicably, you were completely MIA. In fact, other than two ridiculous no-questions-pressers – one to quickly bid adieu to Mike D’Antoni, the other to dispel the notion that Isiah Thomas was pulling the strings on the Carmelo Anthony trade discussions – you haven’t addressed the press privately since somewhere in the middle of Dubya’s second term. Newsflash, Mr. Dolan, this is the media capital of the world, and if you won’t color the perception of your franchise, someone else will, and you can bet your fledgling music career that the coverage will not be sympathetic.
Take, for example, New York Magazine’s Will Leitch recently pointing out how Woodson is basically here to appease ‘Melo, which seems a reasonable enough conclusion, especially given that you never sought fit it to really set the record straight on Mike D’Antoni’s ouster. Would it have been that difficult any point during the season for you to simply say that you are 100% committed to Anthony because you believe him to the guy who will take the Knicks to the promised land? We all assume that is the case – partly because of the bounty you gave to acquire him – but sometimes people need to know there is a plan in place and that the ownership is reoslute in its beliefs.
Heck, between ‘Melopalooza, his two playoff failures, “hero-ball,” the slaying of MDA, and the still unresolved questions of his on-court coexistence with others (namely Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin), Anthony has taken under 16 months to eradicate any benefit of Gotham fans’ doubt. Yet you, Sir, who moved heaven and earth to bring him here, have done absolutely nothing to make the climate a more hospitable one for your “superstar.”
Things do not have to be like this.
The New York Giants and the New York Yankees are industry titans in the same market. Those teams win despite an endless and fiery cauldron of media attention, yet they win not only because of their resources, but because they have committed as organizations to doing this a certain way. The right way.
Do you believe that John Mara or Hal Steinbrenner relish talking to the media or having to immediately address erroneous media or fan perceptions when things do not go according to the organizational script? Of course not, but they do it anyway, despite their demanding schedules and significant responsibilities elsewhere. Why? Because it’s just good business.
So consider this my plea, Mr. Dolan. Let’s sit down and talk.
Let’s clear the air. Let’s hit on every single issue that has made the franchise look bad since the day Patrick Ewing was traded. Let’s give the fans what they want – what they have always wanted – an owner who doesn’t sugar coat things, an owner who is clear in his intentions, an owner who is willing to admit when his decisions haven’t panned out, an owner who understands that without the fans, he would have no reason to exist.
Sure, no one wants to put themselves out there; it is a scary thing to drop your defenses and expose yourself to the world – unless, of course, you happen to be starring in HBO’s “Girls” – but you know what might actually happen, Mr. Dolan? People might do something they haven’t done in a very long time, if they ever have.
They might respect you.
Maybe someday, even if it isn’t me, someone will get through to you, Sir. Maybe, someday, Mara or Steinbrenner will show up at one of your JD & The Straight Shot shows, and impart you with some backstage-wisdom. Maybe, someday, you will simply wake up in the middle of the night with a light bulb hovering over your head.
For the Knicks and their fans, someday can’t come soon enough.
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Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SM