By: Kelly Dwyer
Charles Oakley never should have been asked a question about alcoholism, he never should have been forced into defining his relationship with libations on record, and the New York Knicks should be ashamed of themselves.
Even if Oakley had barged into Madison Square Garden last Wednesday with brown paper package in tow and ginned-up breath on the ready to row, MSG’s repeated insistence on telling anyone who would listen that they hope he “gets some help soon” with an unspecified mitigating influence was beyond callous, hardly tactful, far from professional or plain normal. The Knicks, in the hours after shuffling a near-scuffling Oakley away from his seats at the Garden, then pushed all in on Friday in its attempt to paint their former All-Star forward as either a bumbling louse, or an aggressor looking to throw down in a Jack Dempsey-stance after too many tipples.
Or, really, whatever image Knicks and MSG owner James Dolan has of alcoholics. Happy, social alcoholics, a bleary group that Dolan admittedly was not a part of when he was working through his own struggles with alcohol.
Charles Oakley has never been pushed into much, on the court or off, in a lifetime filled with overcoming one obstacle over another. Oakley, in talking with Sirius XM’s NBA channel and then the New York Post after Dolan’s televised explanation of Charles’ indefinite ban from MSG, was certainly eased into explaining himself in ways that can’t help but be termed as anything less than iniquitous.
That’s the New York Knick way, under James Dolan. Blind as a bat despite the MSG lights. Oakley discussed Dolan’s allegations while referencing the work he puts in with former NBA All-Star and admitted alcoholic Jayson Williams, in Florida’s Rebound Institute. From Marc Berman at the New York Post:
“Dolan might think because I go to volunteer at Rebound Institute treatment centers with Jayson that I’m a client,’’ Oakley told The Post. “I’m just supporting the amazing work Jayson is doing. I’m not an alcoholic, but Jayson is.’’
We recently relayed Williams’ ongoing struggles with his addictions. Oakley went on to discuss why, exactly, Mr. Dolan might be confused:
After Williams got his second DWI, Oakley was instrumental in getting his longtime friend into the Florida clinic.
Williams called Oakley immediately and asked him to check out the facility. Oakley drove 1,200 miles in his truck from Cleveland, toured the facility, interviewed officials and then ordered Williams to attend.
“I’m just helping a friend, same as a friend would do for me,” Oakley told Sports Illustrated last year. “Do me a favor and don’t make me out to be no hero.”
We’re fine with that. Charles Oakley deserves no preferential treatment because of his kindness to Jayson Williams, he deserves no preferential treatment because he’s turned in a wildly successful post-NBA life with successful business interests that were in place long before he retired from the NBA in 2004, or before he was dealt from the Knicks to Toronto (for Marcus Camby) during the 1998 NBA draft.
He deserves no preferential treatment just because he’s more familiar with Charles Barkley’s butt, Bill Cartwright’s elbows or Dennis Rodman’s conniving tricks than most other Madison Square Garden ticket-holders. Even on a team that famously stitches “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” into its uniform, Charles Oakley is still just one of dozens of former New York Knicks that have made the World’s Greatest City beam with pride even in full view of the 89-82 playoff game they just lost.
Charles Oakley does deserve fair treatment as an actual human being, though. He deserves the same combination of sensibility and refinement (and, God forbid, good humor) that any other former employee, paid attendee, sentient person or any other combination of the three would merit.