On Basketball: In Socially Conscious N.B.A., Perception of Knicks Dims Again…

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And just last week, Stephen Curry made his feelings about the 45th president mighty clear with clever wordplay.

It is in this 21st-century N.B.A., in this sequence of events, that we need to consider the recent behavioral chaos inside Madison Square Garden — with the Knicks sinking to a new low of depravity with the arrest and humiliation of Charles Oakley, and with Commissioner Adam Silver then needing to get involved, to say enough is enough.

In the process of doing what the owners pay him to do, Silver had to protect the Knicks from inflicting further damage on themselves and the league than the considerable amount they had already inflicted.

Silver’s league may do the bulk of its business in the United States, but it has millions of fans — and millions in corporate deals — around the world. It welcomes players of all colors and ethnicities. It is, no doubt, with that diversity in mind that Silver — perhaps even more so than David Stern before him — has staked the N.B.A.’s reputation on being intolerant of intolerance.

Working out of New York, Silver felt the visceral reactions around the city to the sight of Oakley in handcuffs, dragged from the building, while fans who never forgot how hard he played for the Knicks in the 1990s chanted his name. Silver listened as people rallied around Oakley, despite Oakley’s own inexcusable behavior during the Garden confrontation, for which the team’s owner, James L. Dolan, bore by far the most responsibility.

Silver no doubt winced as Dolan then descended right into the gutter, by publicly, and recklessly, diagnosing Oakley as an alcoholic in need of psychological help.


The former Knick Charles Oakley, left, was involved in an altercation with Madison Square Garden security personnel during a game on Feb. 8.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

And Silver surely heard Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, invoke the elephant in the room, the notion of racial discrimination, when he compared the treatment of Oakley to the explosive case of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was killed by police while being placed under arrest in 2014.

In itself, the Oakley debacle was enough to raise suspicions that the Garden had surrendered to an old N.B.A. racial stereotype — the angry, scary thug (as opposed to the notion that hockey’s brawlers are honorable enforcers).

Maybe Silver’s next guest on the hot seat in his office should be Phil Jackson, the Knicks’ team president, who, this season, has managed to insult James and others with his reference to James’s “posse” and turned Anthony, still his best player, into a much-pitied martyr by disrespectfully sniping at him via the media, news and social.

Lost in the fallout over Jackson’s latest commentary on Anthony was his needless use of Michael Graham as a prop and punch line in the attack, swiping at Graham, a former troubled player who had a dispiriting home life and whom Jackson coached for about 15 minutes in the basketball bush leagues 30 years ago. Why should Jackson drag an innocent man into the mess he has created?

Understand that the Knicks, long before this season, had a rap sheet of insensitivity. A proud lifer, Don Chaney, was escorted by security out of Dolan’s Garden after showing up to coach the Knicks one forgettable night and finding he had been fired. Most notably, Dolan embraced the same scorched-earth strategy he tried on Oakley when a former Knicks employee, Anucha Browne Sanders, sued for sexual harassment a decade ago.

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