In a lengthy interview with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that gave voice to a surprising number of supporters, New York Knicks owner James Dolan got one thing right: He doesn’t think he would participate in a championship parade if his basketball team were to ever win one. He would be mercifully booed, of course, a fact reinforced by Dolan’s admission to O’Connor that he can’t so much as walk down a New York City street without a Knicks fan “jumping out, shouting something horrible and running away.”
The rest of it? Dolan got wrong, as he usually does, in an interview that failed to achieve its likely goal of a public relations turnaround, as it usually does. We could debate the merits of Dolan’s public persona or his efforts to solve his team’s two decades of incompetence, as a number of closer Knicks observers did in O’Connor’s profile, but we are here today to instead focus on what he actually said.
Because what Dolan said was problematic on at least five occasions.
Dolan’s role in a sexual harassment lawsuit
Let’s start with the sexual harassment lawsuit against Dolan, his Madison Square Garden Company and former Knicks president of basketball operations Isiah Thomas. In October 2007, a jury awarded former Knicks executive Anucha Browne $11.6 million from Dolan’s companies upon finding that a) Thomas sexually harassed her and b) Dolan fired her as retribution for reporting said harassment.
Here’s what Dolan has to say about that now:
“I think we didn’t defend ourselves well, so shame on us. … If I had to do it again, I’d be much more careful about how we defended ourselves. I’d be much more involved about it. I’d make sure that the truth came out, and the truth didn’t come out. People told me when you’re in these kind of trials that it’s stacked against you, as being the big employer versus, particularly, a minority woman. … The second mistake we made was that, even in defending yourself, you might come to the conclusion that there was no way to win the case, and so settle and get the thing out of the papers. That would’ve been probably a better decision then, too. So both decisions were probably not good, and I’m the guy in charge, so I have to take responsibility for them.”
Dolan has had more than a decade to successfully defend himself and get the truth out about allegations that Thomas repeatedly harassed and used derogatory language toward Browne, and that Dolan fired her once she complained. He’s done neither. Instead, he rehired Thomas in 2015 to run the WNBA’s New York Liberty, which is at the very least tone deaf and more plainly a slap in the face to both the many women he employs and the entire women’s professional sports league, given the jury’s finding with respect to his alleged unwanted advances and his wildly unsettling defense.
It should not surprise us, then, that Dolan lives in a world where he believes the deck is stacked against him, a 63-year-old white man worth billions, and in favor of Browne, a black woman. Her lawyer, Anne Vladeck, made this point better than I could in a statement to O’Connor for the piece:
“The truth did come out. And I think the deck is stacked against an individual when you have a billionaire on the other side. … It seems it’s absolutely [Dolan’s] style to blame everybody but himself, and the fact is he had somebody who really took him on in a way nobody ever has before like Anucha did, and I think he has to make up all kinds of excuses for why it didn’t work out for him.”
Dolan’s lack of self-awareness is profound and his sense of entitlement enraging.
To sell or not to sell
Every basketball fan in New York would like to see Dolan sell the Knicks, so when he says something like he did in his conversation with O’Connor — that “I could never say that I wouldn’t consider selling the Knicks” and that feeler offers approach $5 billion have been floated — there is reason for optimism. Except, Dolan squashed that with an explanation that makes little to no sense at all:
“I love the Knicks and Rangers, right, but you still have a responsibility to your shareholders. They’re not there because they’re fans. You don’t invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a stock because you’re a fan. You do it because you think that the business is going to increase in value, that the stock price is going to go up. You have a responsibility as the guy who runs the place to deliver on that for them, that’s being open and transparent. And so in that position, I could never say that I wouldn’t consider selling the Knicks. Now, my family is not in that position, and they are the majority shareholders. They hold the majority of the vote. … As a majority owner, I don’t want to sell, either. As the head of the public company, you can’t say you can’t sell, because then you’re telling your shareholders that your own personal feelings about your assets are more important than their money. And they won’t invest with you if you do that.”
So, will you sell the team or not? One question before this response, Dolan conceded that “as a business, you’re not killing anybody with your growth” as an NBA team, suggesting that the publicly traded Madison Square Garden Company’s investment in the Knicks could be better spent elsewhere. If it is his duty as chairman to act in his shareholders’ best interest, then selling the team for $5 billion — well above the most recent Forbes valuation of the team — is just good business, right?
When asked about the song he wrote on the “living hell” that is owning the Knicks, Dolan told ESPN, “I don’t relish in the focus that’s put on me. I’m all about the work, so yeah, I don’t really love that part of it at all.” Here’s an idea: Sell the team, man. If it’s the work you enjoy and not the whole ownership thing, invest that $5 billion elsewhere and emerge from your living nightmare. I can’t imagine Dolan likes being called “the dumbest owner in sports,” so let’s just make it a clean break and start over.
Dolan’s relationship with Harvey Weinstein
A 2017 lawsuit against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein named Dolan as a defendant, claiming he “knew of Weinstein’s pattern and practice of predatory sexual conduct toward women from his personal relationship with Weinstein and his position as a director of The Weinstein Company.”
Dolan served on the board from 2015 to 2016, when he left to pursue other business interests and stated, “The company is in good shape. Harvey and Bob remain close personal friends, and I will continue to be supportive in any way I can. I wish my fellow board members continued success.”
This past August, Dolan actually wrote a song about his friendship with Weinstein that went a little something like this, “I should’ve known. I should’ve thrown myself across his tracks, stopped him from these vile attacks. I should have known. We believed and didn’t see, through the lies he told us all.”
And this is what he told O’Connor:
“That lawsuit, they reached out for everybody that they could possibly find. … I’ll answer what the court needs answered from me on it, but I just think it’s ridiculous. One of the things that people don’t know about Harvey and I is that, long before this ever happened, a year before this ever happened, I stopped relating to Harvey. I stopped being his friend because he had changed, and he wasn’t behaving like my friend. He was behaving like somebody — it was what I could do for him. In fact, I wrote him a whole letter about it and he never responded to it, until the next time I heard from him like six weeks later, and it was a request for tickets. And I’m like, ‘I know you read my letter.’ But I gave up on him long before that.”
News of Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct broke in early October 2017, when The New York Times and New Yorker detailed decades of alleged predatory behavior. Dolan had by then forged a decade-long friendship with Weinstein. He also served on The Weinstein Company’s board of directors in 2015, the same year one woman’s allegations against Weinstein led to a police investigation and another woman wrote a memo to the board saying, “There is a toxic environment for women at this company.”
According to Dolan, his friendship with the producer ended a year later, around the time he left The Weinstein Company’s board of directors, for reasons apparently unrelated to sexual harassment.
Dolan’s story, while convenient, does little to deny the claims made by Weinstein’s alleged victims, who last year publicly called the producer a “predator” and added, “The board knew it. The lawyers knew it. The private investigators knew it. Hollywood knew it. We knew it. Now the world knows it.”
Their lawsuit is ongoing.
Dolan’s relationship with Donald Trump
Dolan contributed $300,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. His explanation to O’Connor:
“I’ve known him for a long time. I got married at Mar-a-Lago. I’m a member of Mar-a-Lago, and I support him as a friend. And you don’t have to agree with everything that he’s doing in order to support him. And he’s, by the way, our president, and I don’t understand people who wish our president to do badly. Why would you wish your president to do badly? It’s like wishing that your milkman will bring you sour milk.”
This is not about wishing the president to do badly. Sixty two percent of the American people believe he is already doing that without fanfare, according to the most recent Gallup poll. If Dolan donated to Trump because he wanted him to do well as president, he would donate the same to every candidate.
This is about the racist, sexist and xenophobic comments and policies coming from Trump’s White House. By his own account, Dolan stopped being friends with Weinstein over repeated Knicks ticket requests, but he is supporting Trump as a friend despite more allegations of sexual harassment and an ongoing investigation into whether he defrauded the American public, among other charges.
Dolan’s support of the First Amendment
On the one hand, Patrick Dolan told ESPN that his brother is “actually a major defender of the First Amendment.” And on the other, Dolan himself concedes to keeping “clip-file dossiers on those who cover the Garden and its teams” and actively trying to suppress negative coverage about the Knicks.
Case in point, when Dolan cut off WFAN’s access after radio host Maggie Gray criticized him for singing that Weinstein song in the wake of his team’s own sordid sexual harassment history, calling the owner a “vile piece of trash” and a “disgusting human.” Dolan told O’Connor that Gray “went way the hell over the line” and said he “waited for an apologetic and reassuring phone call that never came.”
The media is not your friend. It is not supposed to be Isiah Thomas’ friend. It is not supposed to be Harvey Weinstein’s friend. It is not supposed to be Donald Trump’s friend. And it is not supposed to be James Dolan’s friend. Gray does not owe him an apology. To think he deserves one is yet another case of entitlement and a lack of self-awareness. And to spin it like this to O’Connor?
“There’s a change in tone, even in the press,” he says. “It’s the same things I don’t like about being owner of the team.” Dolan refers to a more civil climate in his father’s prime. “Back then,” he says, “people understood you were doing a job. And they didn’t necessarily come to these conclusions about your personality, who you are, whether you’re an evil person. It’s a little unreal today.”
We’re guessing he wouldn’t approve of this column. But we’re making no judgment on his personality. Nor are we calling him an evil person. We’re just sorting through his own words and actions — a series of tangents and deflections in an effort to escape blame and introspection at every turn — and can’t help but wonder if his latest attempt to swing public opinion in his favor made things worse again.
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