Ex-Knicks Star Oakley Sues Owner Dolan Over Arena Ouster
(Bloomberg) -- Former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley was known as a bruising defender and rebounder during his 19-year National Basketball Association career. He’s still throwing elbows.
Oakley stepped up his feud with team owner James Dolan, claiming in a lawsuit Tuesday that he was defamed when he was thrown out of a game in February and subjected to a coordinated smear campaign afterward.
Oakley was escorted out by security as the Knicks were playing the Los Angeles Clippers. He was arrested, charged with assault and banned indefinitely from the arena. According to the suit, Dolan then launched a public relations campaign against Oakley, accusing him of abusing fans and staff, acting inappropriately and "struggling with alcoholism" in order to denigrate’ Oakley’s standings among Knicks fans.
"As he did throughout his playing career, Mr. Oakley has refused to walk to the bench in shame," Oakley’s lawyers said in the complaint. "Instead, holding his head up high, Mr. Oakley files this complaint to set the record straight and to hold defendants responsible for their reprehensible conduct."
Oakley, 53, a power forward, was with the Knicks for a decade, earning a spot on the All-Star team in the 1993-94 season and helping lead them to the finals that year. His ejection played out live on television and led to a public battle between him and Dolan. Oakley last month came to an agreement with prosecutors that would have the charges against him dropped if he isn’t arrested within six months.
"This is a frivolous lawsuit and nothing more than another attempt by Mr. Oakley to garner attention," Stephen Miraglia, a spokesman for the Madison Square Garden Co., said in an emailed statement. "We will deal with this accordingly."
In his suit, Oakley said he wasn’t intoxicated or behaving inappropriately when he arrived at the Garden that night. Nevertheless, he was approached at his seat by "three large men" who identified themselves as arena security and ordered him to leave without explanation.
One of the guards asked Oakley why he was sitting so close to Dolan, who was a few rows in front of him, and the former player responded that he was doing nothing wrong and turned around to return to his seat, according to the lawsuit. Oakley said it was a coincidence that his seat was so close to Dolan, but he said he didn’t speak or acknowledge the team owner.
Oakley said the guards tried to force him to leave. He said he was grabbed by six people and dragged out of the arena.
Oakley said he has never had a problem with excessive anger and hasn’t abused alcohol or drugs and that Dolan’s attempt to paint him as an abusive drinker is part of a pattern. He pointed to a February 2015 email in which he responded to a fan’s complaint by speculating that he might be an alcoholic and referencing his own sobriety.
"Indeed, it is clear that defendant Dolan’s knee-jerk response when confronted by anyone that he does not like is to level unsupported accusations that his critics suffer from alcoholism, a particularly sad pattern in light of his own struggles with alcohol," Oakley said in the lawsuit.
Dolan, 62, inherited control of the Knicks and the Garden from his father Charles in the late 1990s. The family, which sold Long Island-based cable provider Cablevision Systems Corp. to the European telecom company Altice NV for $17.7 billion last year, has a net worth of more than $5 billion, according to Forbes.
The case is Charles Oakley v. James Dolan, 17-cv-06903, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)