John Anderson, 29, and Steven Line, 27, were both going to the New York Knicks game on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden for one reason only. “We’re here to chant ‘Free Oakley’,” Anderson said, outside of the arena before the Knicks faced off against the San Antonio Spurs on a dreary Sunday afternoon in Midtown. “That’s why we came today.”
Thousands of other fans joined Anderson and Line during the Knicks game Friday night chanting “Free Oakley!” throughout the game. The Knicks lost to the Denver Nuggets.
The chants can be explained by what happened last Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Then, former Knick and All-Star forward Charles Oakley was arrested after getting into an altercation with MSG security guards during the first quarter of the Knicks’ home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He was removed from the arena and put in handcuffs, and he was charged with four misdemeanors. The charges included three counts of third-degree assault and one count of criminal trespass.
The next day the security guard involved in the incident was fired and, on Friday afternoon, the Knicks announced that Oakley was temporarily banned from attending Knicks games at the Garden, even if he bought a ticket.
During Oakley’s 10 seasons in New York, the Knicks reached the playoffs every year, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1994.
“We’re talking about a Knicks legend here,” said Tony Rincon, 42, before Sunday’s game.
Oakley’s and the Knicks’ accounts of what took place courtside greatly differ,. But no one disputes that the contentious relationship that exists between Oakley and team owner Jim Dolan is at the root of what happened. Dolan’s seat at Knicks games just happens to be nearby where Wednesday’s incident occurred. Either way Knicks fans are not happy.
“It was horrible seeing that happen” said Eric Solcruz, 24, who was watching last Wednesday night’s game at home when the Oakley melee ensued and the former Knick was dragged out of the arena by several security guards on national television. “To put him in jail was wrong.”
Because of Dolan’s already unpopular standing with Knicks’ fans due to the lack of team success since he took over the organization in 1997, an overwhelming majority of fans are siding with the man who they cheered on throughout the 1990’s.
“Oakley was a fan favorite,” Line said. “People loved him when he was a player and still love him.”
After making the playoffs every season from 1987-2001, the Knicks have only made the playoffs four times in the last 16 years and have not won an NBA championship since 1973. Many fans like Solcruz believe that the organization’s problems start and end with Dolan.
“Dolan just keeps messing up the Knicks,” Solcruz said. “He totally mishandled it.”
“The problems with this team start at the top with Dolan,” said Rich Fernandez, 33, before Sunday’s game. “It’s sad that Oakley can’t be part of the Knicks.”
During the Knicks’ 94-90 win over San Antonio on Sunday, fans once again vociferously chanted “Free Oakley!” throughout the stands. Some fans like Rincon believe the Knicks need Oakley now more than ever.
“It’s even more sad what happened when you think about how much the Knicks suck,” Rincon said. “We need an Oakley on this team.”