Michael Barrett Staff Writer
Monday night’s matchup between the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden featured a battle between two of the NBA’s biggest personalities. However, the showdown didn’t take place on the ninety-four feet of hardwood which has been the center stage for New York basketball over the past fifty-two years. Rather, the conflict ensued at the employee entrance to the arena between Knicks super fan Spike Lee and the infamous owner of the franchise James Dolan.
The Academy Award-winning director, who has become synonymous with Knicks basketball over the past few decades, was denied the use of the employee entrance by Madison Square Garden staff at the request of Dolan. Lee claims that he had been exclusively using the entrance over his past twenty-eight years as a season ticket-holder and was given no prior notice to the change in protocol. Dolan inherited the team from his father and has been the owner for twenty-one seasons but, for unknown reasons, he has decided enough is enough. He is putting his foot down and demanding Lee uses the VIP entrance which is standard practice for the many celebrities which make an appearance to watch the popular, yet unsuccessful team. Although Lee was eventually permitted entry to the arena he has brought the dispute to the public’s attention and has stated he will not be attending any games at the Garden for the remainder of the season. Dolan fired back through the Knicks’ PR Account on Twitter, releasing a statement stating that “the idea that Spike Lee is a victim… is laughable.”
At first glance this seems to be a trivial disagreement between two rich men with oversized egos. It’s easy for the average fan, for whom a nosebleed seat at Madison Square Garden may be too steep of a price to pay, to look at Spike’s outrage over this incident as petty and entitled. However, it’s important to consider a few facts about Spike Lee and his relationship with the Knicks. First of all, while he is definitely wealthy with a net worth estimated at forty million dollars, he pays a hefty sum for his season tickets at courtside, roughly three hundred thousand per year. A quick estimation by ESPN First Take’s Max Kellerman puts the total price tag for thirty years of patronage at ten million dollars adjusting for inflation. This is a direct benefit to Dolan and his staggering net worth of 1.5 billion dollars. Furthermore, Lee’s courtside presence has been a staple of the league’s history. His mid-game trash-talking with Hall of Famer Reggie Miller during the 1994 NBA playoffs has been cemented as a legendary moment in Madison Square Garden lore. Finally, Spike Lee, who grew up in Brooklyn, represents the basketball culture of the city. Despite the Knicks’ status as perennial losers he has passionately stood by them season after season, embodying the people’s love for a sport which has provided joy and opportunity for many, especially the African-American community.
In this light Dolan’s actions are disappointing. Spike Lee is an icon amongst a community of Knicks fans and by publicly treating him with disrespect, Dolan is sending the message that he is above the fan base. This is not an isolated incident either. In 2015 Dolan responded to an e-mail from a disgruntled fan of sixty years by accusing him of being an alcoholic and suggesting that he switch his allegiance across town to the Brooklyn Nets. In 2017 former Knicks star Charles Oakley was arrested at Madison Square Garden after getting in an altercation with security guards who were sent by Dolan to remove him. The two had a history of bad blood and Oakley claimed to be harassed by Knicks security at Dolan’s request in the past and that he was minding his own business before being asked to leave. If the wildly unpopular owner continues this trend of harassing the fans of his team it’s unlikely that his reputation will ever improve, even if he somehow manages to put together a winning team.