Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Spike Lee believes off-court issues like the public back-and-forth between he, the Knicks and owner James Dolan on Tuesday are part of the reason the team hasn't attracted top free agents.
"All deference to Mr. KD, Kevin Durant, (when he) talked about why free agents were not coming to play for the New York Knickerbockers in the World's Most Famous Arena, the biggest thing he left out was Charles Oakley being arrested and led out in handcuffs," Lee said in an interview with The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio in New York.
"….. All these guys have each other's numbers on speed dial and I bet everybody in the league was on their phones saying did you see that you know what? F-that, I'm not going to New York. I'll go there once or twice a year as a visiting team. I still feel that is the biggest reason why."
Lee was referring to the night in 2017 when Oakley was dragged from his seat by Garden security and arrested.
The run-in between the Knicks and Lee, arguably the club's most famous fan, escalated into a war of words in which both sides claimed the other was lying.
Lee said he was never told by the Knicks or the Garden to use another entrance into the arena. He said he'd used the same entrance - an entrance for employees, media and fans with disabilities - for years.
Garden security asked Lee to use another entrance - for VIP guests - when he exited an elevator on the event level to attend Monday's Knicks-Rockets game.
Lee declined to use the other entrance and referenced Oakley in a tense conversation with the arena workers that was captured on video tape.
The Knicks initially said that this incident was a misunderstanding over Lee using the wrong entrance. They said that Dolan spoke to Lee at halftime and had resolved the issue. Lee was incensed when he saw the statement and decided to call in to ESPN's First Take and later, The Michael Kay Show, to give his version of events.
He hinted on First Take that free agents have told him they wouldn't play for the Knicks because of the off-court issues surrounding the team in recent seasons, including the Oakley incident and the public back-and-forth between Knicks president Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony.
"Guys will see me when they come and say, 'I'll see Spike when I come to the Garden, but I ain't playing for the Knicks,'" Lee said.
In response to Lee's First Take interview, the Knicks released a statement saying that they've asked Lee repeatedly to use the correct entrance to their arena: "The idea that Spike Lee is a victim because we have repeatedly asked him to not use our employee entrance and instead use a dedicated VIP entrance - which is used by every other celebrity who enters The Garden - is laughable. It's disappointing that Spike would create this false controversy to perpetuate drama. He is welcome to come to The Garden anytime via the VIP or general entrance; just not through our employee entrance, which is what he and Jim agreed to last night when they shook hands."
Lee vehemently denies that he was told by anyone to use another entrance. He swore to as much in interviews Tuesday, invoking dead relatives to underscore his point.
So either he or the Knicks are lying about what was communicated to Lee prior to Monday's game. Lee said several times that he feels harassed by Dolan. That's a damning charge from one of the team's most famous fans to make against the owner.
Ultimately, of course, the details of the he said-he said between Lee, Dolan and the Knicks matter only to those directly involved.
The bigger issue for the Knicks is this: Tuesday's events were another example of the off-court drama that seems to envelope the team.
Lee said that the off-court issues - the Oakley incident in particular - has impacted the club in free agency. Whether he's right about that or not is unknown.
But these incidents certainly can't help the club in free agency.
The Knicks have tried in recent years to distance themselves from the type of negative off-court headlines that were generated Tuesday, but they obviously haven't had much success in doing so.
On the court, you can see some reasons for optimism about the club's future. Under new president Leon Rose, New York has a bevy of first-round picks, some solid young players and significant cap space at its disposal. These are great tools for a rebuild in the NBA.
But, based on Tuesday's events, it seems like Rose & Co. will have to continue to battle the negative perception of the club - fairly earned or not - as they try to build a winner in New York.