No matter the walk of life or a person’s status, coming across Charles Oakley means there’s an experience, an “Oak story” that’s embedded in your brain.
As long as you’re not the topic of an Oak story, it’s probably pleasant in some ways.
“Do I got an Oak story? You know I got an Oak story,” a wide-eyed and smiling Dwyane Wade said to CSNChicago.com Friday afternoon.
Wade was a soon-to-be-rookie in the summer of 2003 when he was working out at famed trainer Tim Grover’s gym in Chicago.
“Oak just randomly came in and played. Open gym,” Wade said.
The directives were clear from the regulars to the novices who hadn’t experienced Oakley in his glory in an open gym with no television cameras, no coaches and most importantly, no referees.
“And everybody was like, "Oak is in here today, you shoot jumpers". I'm like, man (screw) that,” Wade said. “You know me, I'm an aggressive guy, go to the basket.”
“First time I get the ball, I go to the basket.”
From there, Wade’s education on the scrappy big man who didn’t take kindly to high-flying young players coming to his territory began.
“Oak picked me up. I jumped in the air to finish and he grabbed me out the air and said, 'don't come in here. Respect.'”
A grown man in his own right at 35 years old, Wade repeated himself for emphasis of the moment, back when the world was at his fingertips and his body could do things very few in the basketball world could imagine.
“He let me know. I jumped. He grabbed me. Just stopped me in my tracks,” Wade said. “’Respect’. They told me. Chill out, shoot your jumpers. That's my game, I'm an attacker. ‘Respect’. I ain't do it no more until he left (laughs).”
So when Wade saw the disturbing scene of Oakley being dragged out by security guards who clearly looked as if they didn’t want to be the bad guys to the Knick great a couple days ago at Madison Square Garden, it struck a chord with him—as it did with LeBron James, Chris Paul and many other people from various walks of life who’ve had positive and memorable experiences with Oakley.
“Just obviously, you look at it from both sides. From an organization standpoint, I thought it was handled poorly,” Wade said. “And I don't condone violence either. I thought it could've been handled better. I don't know what was said or done but from some angles, seen from afar, with a player like Oak and what he meant to that city, it wasn't some fan coming in talking crazy. I've seen fans, heard fans talk crazy to me before and I didn't see them leave the way he left.”
Oakley and New York Knicks chairman James Dolan have had issues over the years, to the point that Oakley had to buy a ticket to get into Madison Square Garden as opposed to being afforded one by the organization he played for—played hard, played tough and played well for a decade after being traded from the Bulls after the 1988 season.
Wade saw it from two angles—from someone who knows Oakley as a man with principle, a man who doesn’t like to be touched in that way but also as a father to two young boys, knowing the rules for some is different than others.
Wade posted an Instagram picture in support of Oakley with a caption that included
You gotta understand who you're dealing with. You gotta understand Oak. When you go to Oak, you gotta know who you're going to. It was handled poorly. For me, man, it shows my message to players was just understand. As players, you're an African-American is to my kids, understand the world we live in. You're not above anything. I don't think no one would've thought with his 10 years in New York that one day Oak would leave that place on the ground, in handcuffs. It was sad. Real sad.
What incensed Wade even more was the perception being painted by Dolan that Oakley was some kind of raging alcoholic who needed to be kept away from the public. Depending on who you ask, Oakley either cursed at Dolan during courtside or his mere presence irked Dolan to the point where security was deemed necessary.
Oakley has gone on to defend himself in the public, doing numerous interviews to keep his reputation intact as opposed to the picture of him being a danger to regular people.
“You gotta know who you're going to. You're not gonna walk up on Oak like that,” Wade said. “It is what it is. But to paint him as this person who needs help? You ask every player in this league, every young guy in this league, man. Oak has been nothing but amazing to us. All our experiences have been great. Is he a certain way, a certain mentality? Yes. You gotta know that when you're dealing with him. But it was bad, man.”
Wade compares Oakley to a teammate he had in Miami, Udonis Haslem. A guy who played with a toughness that is no longer embraced in today’s NBA, and Oakley has never been shy about speaking out about the evolution of today’s game.
But unlike others, the relationship today’s players have with Oakley makes his strong words easier to take—and being honest, Oakley’s toughness isn’t something that even today’s players want to test.
“I think it's two sides. He's been very vocal about players who couldn't play in his era,” Wade said. “He's been very vocal about that. About the game being softer. But he's been a supporter of players. It's cool to express your opinion but to just to express it through the media and it comes to the players a different way, but when you see guys and talk to guys and they can pick your brain, things like that, now the message is taken differently.”
From that moment in Grover’s gym in Chicago, Wade has been able to seek out Oakley and have conversations with him through the years, as have many others. So the outpouring of support and respect isn’t surprising.
“I liked the fact that though Oak expressed his opinion, he also has been a fan,” Wade said. “He's a big fan of players and he's been great. And you wouldn't expect it, I don't think a lot of people would expect it. Oak has been great with players and around the league, that's why you see players coming out in support of Oak. Because of that. he's done both. He's expressed his opinion but supported us as well. He's talked to you, it's not what he's said from afar. He's talked to you. We've had conversations, he's been in the gym with guys.”
It all comes down to one word for Wade, who probably has just as strong a sense of the word as Oakley does: Respect.