NEW YORK (AP) — Charles Oakley maintains he did nothing wrong before he was surrounded by Madison Square Garden security officials.
Something has happened, though, to turn him from popular player to persona non grata within his former franchise.
Oakley blamed his strained relationship with the Knicks and owner James Dolan on Thursday for the altercation that led to his ejection and arrest from New York’s 119-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
Oakley said during an ESPN Radio interview that he had been in his seat for just a few minutes when he was surrounded by security, denying that they approached him after he shouted at Dolan.
“Now I’m four rows from this guy, so I’m going to walk in this place and just start hollering, ‘James Dolan! James Dolan!’ I mean, that’s embarrassing, man. I did not do none of that,” Oakley said. “I didn’t know the man was sitting in front of me at first until they walked over there.”
Oakley said he has been told that Dolan must be informed by security whenever he is in the arena, and that MSG staff follows him when he leaves his seat to go the bathroom.
But the Knicks said he was causing trouble Wednesday even before security reached his seat.
“There are dozens of security staff, employees and NYPD that witnessed Oakley’s abusive behavior,” the team said in a statement.
“It started when he entered the building and continued until he was arrested and left the building. Every single statement we have received is consistent in describing his actions. Everything he said since the incident is pure fiction.”
Clippers forward Blake Griffin said he recognized Oakley right away and saw him say something to Dolan before the altercation at his seat.
“I was walking down and I saw him. He stopped and he started talking to Dolan,” Griffin said. “But it was crazy. I didn’t know what it was about or anything. I just saw a bunch of commotion.”
Oakley was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of criminal trespass. He is accused of striking one security guard in the face with a closed fist, and when two other people tried to intervene, both were pushed and received cuts.
He is due back in court April 11.
Oakley pushed and shoved his way around the basketball court at MSG for 10 years as a fighting forward during an era of excellence for the Knicks, who made one NBA Finals appearance and became an Eastern Conference power while Oakley played for them from 1988-98.
He was back there brawling again Wednesday, only this time it was a sad sight in what’s perhaps the team’s sorriest era.
The Knicks have become one of the league’s worst teams, winning just one playoff series since 2001 and falling to a franchise-worst 17 wins two years ago. Oakley has been a vocal critic of the performance and that’s led to his falling out with the organization.
The team gave him complimentary tickets and acknowledged him on the video board when he first retired, but stopped giving him passes after he blasted the team to reporters at a game. He is no longer invited to official team events and when he does go to games, pays his own way. He’s not sure if will keep going.
“My thing is, I would love to be able to go to the Garden, but I don’t want to keep going to the Garden if all this is going to keep happening,” Oakley said. “My thing is, I feel sorry for the fans because those fans like me, and they appreciate me and I appreciate them.”
Oakley was also appreciated by teammates, from Michael Jordan in Chicago to Patrick Ewing in New York, and he remains respected by current players. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade posted pictures of Oakley on their Instagram pages, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers said it was difficult watching his former Knicks teammate being dragged away and handcuffed during the first quarter of Wednesday’s game.
“Listen, he was my teammate and he was a great teammate,” Rivers said. “I don’t know what happened. Obviously they had to do what they had to do. They were in the right. Security has to do what they have to do. But at the end of the day it’s still your teammate. So that was tough.”