Rotting away: Infighting, bad news carry day in the Big Apple

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The average price of a ticket to a New York Knicks game is about $130, or nearly $30 more than the next most expensive ticket in the National Basketball Association.

These days, perhaps owing to the lineup of underachievers they consistently run out at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks have added an element of circus to their entertainment product – minus the trapeze, the elephants and the guy with a shovel behind the elephants.

One of the league’s most disappointing franchises over the past several decades had already been keeping company with the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference when it went off the deep end last week.

In case you missed it, former Knicks power forward Charles Oakley was removed from his seat four minutes into the first quarter of a game he attended and forcefully taken away from the stadium after a skirmish with security. Oakley, who spent 10 of his 19 NBA seasons with the Knicks, was handcuffed, arrested and charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault.

A predictable flurry of reaction followed, with everyone from Knicks mascot Spike Lee to veteran windbag Al Sharpton weighing in. Former and current NBA players Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade all voiced support for Oakley, and one east coast sports blog looking to cash in on the fiasco even rushed out a stock of “Free Oakley” T-shirts.

The incident culminated a longtime animosity between Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan. Oakley had been publicly critical of the team, which has won a total of one playoff series since Dolan assumed ownership 16 years ago, and it has been hinted that Oakley was unhappy over not having been offered an assistant coaching position there.

Most recently, a mutinous vibe festered throughout the organization over the fate of the Knicks’ best player, Carmelo Anthony, whose defense and will to win had been questioned by team president Phil Jackson. It is believed that Jackson’s sideswipe was aimed to encourage Anthony to waive the no-trade clause in his contract before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

At any rate, Oakley was among those siding against management in the Car-melodrama, and shortly after taking his seat at the Knicks-Clippers game last week, he was reportedly yelling at Dolan, who was seated a few rows ahead. Soon, Oakley was confronted by a phalanx of security guards informing him that he had to vamoose.

Embarrassed and angry, Oakley pushed one of the guards and waved his finger in the face of another before finally being wrestled to the ground and ushered out.

Former Knicks player Chris Childs noted, “We used to be known for Willis Reed running out of the tunnel. Now it’s about dragging Oak into it. The franchise is so broken, it’s sad to see.”

Knicks management later issued a press release citing their hope that Oakley would get help, a thinly veiled suggestion that he had a drinking problem. Oakley, who professes his continued love for the Knicks, was banned from Madison Square Garden indefinitely.

Among the questions in the wake of the debacle was one of what high-quality free agent in his right mind would ever consider jumping on board this dumpster fire.

As far as where the fault lay, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. If Oakley desired a positive association with the Knicks – or a job – he could have been more diplomatic. If management had an issue with Oakley to be dealt with publicly, they may have considered not sending over an entire army of security to address it.

With the help of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, a close friend of Oakley and an associate of Dolan, a truce was finally brokered. Oakley’s Madison Square Garden ban was lifted, and Dolan said he hopes he can have Oakley there soon as his guest.

Whether the struggling Knicks will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season remains to be seen. But if there’s a bright side – as far as floundering New York sports teams are concerned – this latest train wreck took some heat off the Jets.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. To contact him, send an email to sports@wolfrivermedia.com.