James Dolan doesn’t get it.
Not that the owner of the New York Knicks needed to provide more evidence, but he did on The Michael Kay Show during a 48-minute radio interview.
It’s not just that he banned a fan from Madison Square Garden for garden variety heckling. It’s not just that he can’t put a competitive team on the court. It’s not just that the Garden on the basketball side operates with the unflattering paranoia and pettiness.
That’s all part of it, for sure.
He doesn’t get that the Knicks are a public trust. That is his greatest fault.
“The Knicks are owned by the public,” Kay said.
“No, the Knicks are not owned by the public,” Dolan said.
“But it’s a public trust,” Kay countered.
“Listen, the Knicks are owned by the shareholders of the company, which I’m the majority shareholder, right,” Dolan said.
Of course, he owns the Knicks. Everyone understands that. But Dolan misses the larger point of what it means to be an owner. The very best owners in professional sports recognize that franchises belong to the city, the community, the region and the fans in a metaphorical sense. It’s an easy concept to understand. You do right by the fans, and the fans will do right by you even through tough seasons.
You should take my word on it, but also listen to Golden State Warriors COO and president Rick Welts. On a recent episode of The Boardroom on ESPN, Welts – a longtime NBA executive both with teams and the league office – said this about owners:
“I think the best ones always are the ones who understand that they really don’t own the team. The fans own the team. For a period of time, you are a steward for that, and you’ll be judged on how well you manage that. But there was an owner before you and there will probably be an owner after you. If you have the mindset that this is yours in trust as opposed to yours to own … I really believe that without great ownership, a team really doesn’t have an opportunity to succeed.”
Dolan doesn’t grasp the concept, and it’s why the Knicks are doomed despite the best efforts from people in basketball operations. It’s an owner’s duty to understand the fans’ commitment and investment and respect that. There’s no indication Dolan does.
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Not coincidentally, the Knicks have not had much success under Dolan’s reign and we’re not counting the 1999 NBA Finals appearance shortly after he became chairman of Madison Square Garden Company.
It shouldn’t go without noting that The Boardroom is produced by and features Rich Kleiman, who also is Kevin Durant’s business manager. Durant, also a producer of the show, will be a free agent this summer.
Dolan’s negative publicity this season comes at an unfortunate time for the team. The Knicks are trying to lure big-name free agents to New York, and give general manager Scotty Perry and coach David Fizdale credit for trying to establish a culture that makes the Knicks a destination.
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Little does Dolan know that he’s subverting their efforts.
Maybe the Knicks can land a free agent or two, get lucky in the draft and build a contending team this summer. But with Dolan in charge, is there anything that makes anyone believe it’s sustainable? Since that Finals appearance in 1999, the Knicks have five playoff appearances, just one series victory and 12 losing seasons.
During the interview on Kay’s radio show, it was Dolan at his inartful best blaming the fan for ambushing him, trying to justify banning the fan from the Garden, blaming leakers for trying to sow franchise discord by saying he’s selling the team (he says he’s not), rationalizing his petty fight with the Daily News (which he didn’t invite to news events involving Knicks front office personnel) and proclaiming the Knicks will sign big-name free agents this summer. At the end of the interview, he thumbed through his notes to make sure he hit his talking points.
It’s always somebody else, never him, exposing how thin-skinned he is. Rarely is Dolan bigger than the moment.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt