By now, you all know about the Charles Oakley incident at Madison Square Garden.
I'm not sure exactly what to believe about the events of that night. The story linked above gives both sides of it. Garden officials say Oakley was "abusive" and "disrespectful" from the moment he walked through the doors of the arena. Oakley called the accusations "outrageous." The video, also in the above link, shows Oakley getting physical with security guards who were attempting to escort him out of the arena. His actions toward those people certainly did not make him a sympathetic figure. And neither did witness reports obtained by TMZ.
Particularly when his reputation as a player was as an enforcer and frequent fighter. It was obvious security people were handling him with great caution.
Public and media outrage have followed, most of it, predictably, critical of Knicks/MSG owner James Dolan and his treatment of a former player. I assume a lot of the media is attacking Dolan simply because this incident gives them another chance to do so. But when I watch the video of the incident it's pretty hard for me to sympathize with Oakley, who seemed to escalate his problems by physically confronting the security people. Should he have been ejected from his seat and the building? Hard for me to judge, but if the stories are true about his conduct in the arena, he should be treated like anyone else whose actions are threatening to those around him.
Many in the media are turning him into a martyr.
I've always sympathized with sports franchises when it comes to the way they are expected to treat former players. In a good many cases the players are paid handsomely for their tenure with a team, then upon retirement, return to the franchise and expect special treatment and some sort of paid position -- oftentimes a job that requires little work and high salary. I have heard, over the years, front office people in just about every sport complain about players who have earned big bucks from a team and then expect special treatment when their playing days are over.
VIP treatment? You get plenty of that as an active player and anything beyond your retirement is a bonus. I'm a big fan of employing ex-players if they are willing to earn their pay. But beyond that, I don't see a responsibility for a team to have to continue the sort of pampering these guys get while playing.
Oakley, by the way, is not one of those players who has squandered his salary as a player and is expecting a handout. His net worth, according to one source, is $52 million. He has been at odds with Dolan for years for reasons not entirely known. But Oakley earned more than $15 million from the Knicks during his tenure there. The franchise owes him respect for what he gave his teams, but nothing more.
To me, he's just another disgruntled ex-player running around whining about how "soft" the NBA is today:
The coaches in this league, in this day and era, are soft; the players are soft, how can you build something? They put all these stat guys, these analytic guys, and put them on the bench and make them GM because of numbers.
“When we played in the ’80s, it wasn’t OK [for European players to play in the NBA]. They weren’t coming over here. They were scared. The game was tough and they weren’t tough.
I believe if he walks into that building and is responsible for making people feel uncomfortable or threatened, he ought to be removed from the building, whether he played for the Knicks or not -- just like you or me. Oakley made a big deal about buying his own ticket for that game, but so what? He did so, apparently, to sit near Dolan, for whatever reason.
To me, Oakley having to buy his own ticket is not a great hardship and it buys him nothing more than the same rights and responsibilities of any other ticket holder. I have very little sympathy for him.
The NBA has been very, very good to Charles Oakley -- and I'm not sure he was in Madison Square Garden the other night with the idea of returning the favor.