Knicks’ Spike Lee firestorm has dangerous Leon Rose repercussions

I’ve probably never seen Mike Miller as happy as he looked Monday night just after the Knicks had beaten the Rockets in the Garden. It was the first official night of Leon Rose’s tenure as the new Knicks team president, and the victory helped build a case for Miller going from interim head coach to permanent head coach.

That remains a long shot, but beating a perennial playoff contender like Houston was a solid first impression. But before Miller could revel in the victory or hear any comments about the Knicks showing improvement, the ensuing discussion centered on the alleged mistreatment of superfan Spike Lee and disparaging comments from former player Charles Oakley.

It’s all too typical of the way the Knicks have been operating lately. Instead of some positive talk of about how the team looked on the court against Houston, the aftermath has been a battle of words between the Garden and one of its most recognizable fans, an Oscar-winning director.

“It just keeps happening in New York,” Oakley said on an ESPN radio show. “People are not going to come here because it’s the same thing over and over and over. They got a new president and all everyone is talking about is what happened between Spike Lee and the Garden.”

So much for the image makeover that’s supposed to be underway for owner James Dolan and the Knicks. This latest incident represents two steps back if the hiring of Rose was viewed as a step in a positive direction.

The Knicks are having trouble attracting top-tier free agents, as witnessed by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant signing with Brooklyn last summer. Rose, with his quarter-century of experience as an agent, is supposed to help with that. But the tiff between the Garden and Lee only adds to the national perception that the Knicks aren’t to be trusted.

It opened the door for Oakley to chime in and add fuel to the fire. The former All-Star forward who was the epitome of toughness during his career is still miffed after being forcibly removed from his seat by security during a Knicks game at the Garden three years ago.

“It’s a plantation over there. It’s bad,” Oakley said on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” show on Wednesday. “People don’t want to talk about it. It’s real bad over there.”

The reality is there have been few professional sports organizations that have hired as many African-American in executive roles as the Knicks. Before the firings of head coach David Fizdale and team president Steve Mills earlier this season, the Knicks had African-Americans as head coach, team president and general manager. That doesn’t fit with what most people think of as a plantation.

Spike Lee; James Dolan; Charles Oakley Knicks
Spike Lee; James Dolan; Charles OakleyAP, Robert Sabo, Paul J. Bereswill

But that didn’t prevent Oakley’s comments from going viral and cementing the impression the Knicks are dysfunctional and their owner is a borderline racist. Neither is true, though the Knicks haven’t helped things by the way they’ve handle this latest flap involving Lee.

Dolan and the Knicks just made Rose’s job harder. With his ties and experience as an agent, he was hired to make the Garden a “must” destination for free agents and players who want to be traded. What happened on the court by beating the Rockets on Monday was perfect for that narrative. What happened with Spike Lee wasn’t.

Players know they can get their money and a high level of fame without coming to New York. And playing in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” can be satisfied with an appearance in New York once or twice a year.

Additionally, if you’re a team competing with the Knicks to attract the same free agent, wouldn’t you utilize all the stories and videos surrounding the treatment of Lee and Oakley to discourage anyone from playing for the Knicks?

Hiring Rose was supposed to signal a fresh start with the chance to create a new and more favorable impression of Dolan and the Knicks. Miller thought he’d done that by beating the Rockets. But what happened with Lee shows they’re still capable of acting as bad off the court as on it.

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