"The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."
The New York Knicks club was around well before it was purchased by the Dolan family. It is the closest thing the city has to a basketball institution. Alas, the laws of civil society allowed them to purchase the Knicks franchise and put prodigal son James in charge. There is no law that can force them to sell the team. That is the reality of the human social contract.
Like many Knicks fans, I have all but abandoned any thoughts of the present to focus on the future. It helps that I turned 32 years old last week. Ever since I came back from China last May, I've found that there is so much to do, and so little time to do it. To get my wife over here, settle down and start a family, I need to earn. And I earn my money by writing articles about basketball -- particularly my beloved Knicks.
But I've found that my Knicks articles rarely involve actual basketball anymore -- instead, everything comes back to Dolan. Why does Dolan keep the coach? What is Dolan doing with the front office? Will Dolan view this season as a wake-up call?
Now more than ever, the owner has become a part of my life. I was a fan before he became the owner, and I pray to God I will still be around when he's no longer in charge, but for the moment I am a slave to his every whim.
This occurred to me on Sunday when I read an article about John Giamella, the 19-year-old Staten Island native who was arrested for threatening Dolan on Twitter. Per Jim Cavan -- another talent who has wasted the flower of his youth writing about Knicks ownership:
But there’s another, more hidden—and decidedly weirder—narrative at play here: Dolan has a security contingent scouring the Interwebs for defamatory fodder.
Just as internet writers have been reduced to writing a constant stream of articles pointing the finger at Dolan this season just to put food on the table, so there are teams of security workers putting their kids through college by searching the Internet for anything related to the owner.
Even Carmelo Anthony -- the second-most powerful man in the organization at the moment -- knows where his bread is buttered:
Carmelo: If it takes me taking a paycut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying, 'Take my money, let’s build something stronger.'
— Scott Cacciola (@ScottCacciola) February 14, 2014
The basketball club is merely a tangential concern at this point -- all are cogs in the Dolan machine, from the players to the writers to the online sleuths to the naked, gun-toting maniacs.
This is what separates the garden-variety bad owner from the true sports despots. Dolan rarely does interviews, controls the flow of information, but in the end everything revolves around him. Competence takes a back seat to absolute loyalty.
Though this season may be an utter failure for the Knicks on the court, it has been a triumph for the owner. He has consolidated his power by installing lackeys at all the key positions. James Dolan is the Knicks; the same way the pharaoh is Egypt. And, like the pharaohs of old, Dolan will wield absolute power over the franchise until the day he dies.
But the Knicks are a feudal kingdom, and we are mere serfs -- tied to the team by the place of our birth, or family tradition. Sure, you could root for the Nets, just like a 10th-century European peasant could join an ascetic monastic sect, living in caves and drinking your own urine. But most humans are simply not wired that way -- we cannot abandon society for solitary existence in stinking caves or Nets fandom. So we hold on to the Knicks, in spite of the voice deep in the recesses of the mind that knows they will not win a championship in Dolan's lifetime.
We Americans aren't used to this old school, medieval power structure. If you hate the president (and, depending on your politics, you probably hated one of the last two), you can at least console yourself with the fact that the joker won't hold sway over you for life.
There's only one thing left for the rational New York fan to cling to -- and it isn't hope. That ship has sailed.
What separates the rest of us from the John Giamellas of the world is the understanding that basketball is not life and death. James Dolan may be a sports tyrant in every sense of the word, but that is still a far cry from the real thing.
So take it from a guy who spent six years in another hemisphere: There is no escaping the lordship of James Dolan. His reign of terror spans time and space. We all bought into this deal many years ago, and we'll be paying the price for decades more.
So I beg you, Knicks fans, keep your clothes on and don't make any threats. We're better than that.