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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

James Dolan on owning the Knicks: ‘You’re not beloved until you’re dead’


James L. Dolan watches the Knicks play the Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden in 2017.

By Katherine Rosman


The focus of James L. Dolan’s attention is his new Las Vegas super-arena, called the Sphere, which includes 700,000 square feet of video screens and will open with a series of mostly sold-out U2 concerts next week.


But in several interviews over the past five months for a New York Times profile published this week, Dolan, who controls the companies that own Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the Knicks and the Rangers, had a lot of eye-opening things to say about his New York sports teams — as well as his feud with a former Knicks star, Charles Oakley; a potential renovation of Penn Station; and why it is OK to criticize the basketball team but not its owner. Here are some highlights.


Not a fan of team-owning


Before deciding to build the Sphere, Dolan had considered expanding his sports portfolio, perhaps by buying a baseball or soccer team. He decided against it, saying he finds the economics of major league sports “kind of sleepy.” Although the Knicks and Rangers are “near and dear to my heart,” he said, “I don’t really like owning teams.”


A wish for Oakley


In 2017, Oakley, a Knicks all-star and a vocal critic of Dolan, was ejected from the stands at the Garden during a game between the Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers. In a spectacle before fans and cameras, a physical altercation broke out between Oakley and eight security guards and police officers as they tried to remove him.


The incident is the subject of a lawsuit and created anger toward Dolan among fans loyal to Oakley.


So the Times asked Dolan if there was any part of the incident he wishes he could change. “Yes,” he said. “I wish I could change Charles Oakley.”


50-50 chance


Politicians and civic leaders are hoping to move forward with a much-needed renovation of Penn Station, the rail depot that sits dank and dark beneath Madison Square Garden, a building that New York state law exempts from paying property taxes.


Dolan said that his company would not financially contribute to the Penn Station project — “That’s a civic responsibility,” he said, adding that his company is “a private enterprise.” But given how long city leaders have been talking about renovating the station, he said, he’s not holding his breath. “The best I give it, personally, is 50-50 that anything will happen,” he said.


‘This team sucks’


Dolan rules over the Garden like a king (back when kings had real power). He uses facial recognition technology to bar from entry lawyers working for firms that represent clients suing his companies. (He calls them “troll attorneys.”)


He also believes the sports fans who publicly express their displeasure with his leadership while they are at the Garden should be removed from the arena. For instance, a fan holding a sign that says “Sell the Team” is subject to ejection, because, Dolan said, they violate a code of conduct barring the harassment of the arena’s workers, including him. “I am an employee,” he said.


(The code of conduct does not actually say that, but it does stipulate that “guests shall be respectful of others around them.”)


He said it is OK to hold a sign that says, “Play better, this team sucks,” because “that’s part of being a fan.”


Does not take it personally


Dolan is frequently approached — at public events, at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, at his mother’s wake — by people offering unsolicited advice for the Knicks. “Basically every fan thinks of themselves as the owner/general manager,” he said.


He said he does not take criticism of his leadership personally. “Being a professional sports owner in New York,” he said, “you’re not beloved until you’re dead.”

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