James Dolan has widely been viewed during his reign over the New York Knickerbockers as a mixture between Ebenezer Scrooge and Dr. Seuss’s fabled Grinch, but seeing as he has thus far kept his hands off the team’s latest rebuilding efforts, it only seems right that the billionaire receives a bit of Christmas cheer this year.
In uncharacteristic fashion, Dolan recently granted ESPN’s Ian O’Connor a two-hour interview, and his answers to a number of the questions made big time news. Perhaps most highlighted in the media was his pontification about potentially selling the Knicks — the caveat there is that Dolan was really only saying that he has a duty to shareholders to consider a bonafide an offer if one was to be made. Jonathan Schulman put it best and most bluntly: James Dolan won’t sell the Knicks.
Other topics brought up in the interview included the infamous 2007 sexual harassment lawsuit that Isiah Thomas brought upon the Knicks (Dolan’s answers on this issue continue to not be great), his history with alcohol (for a guy who has struggled with alcoholism he strangely has an unfortunate habit of haphazardly alleging that his critics have problems with alcohol, as documented last April by our very own Joe Flynn), and the the Knicks current rebuilding process (we’re going to get to that in a minute).
As sports fans, it can be very easy to assume how easy and great Dolan’s life is, and to rue him for the some of the decisions he’s made since being handed the keys to the Knicks in 1999; and there’s no question that there are things to be rued. With that said, Dolan is simply a human being who, like all of us, has good days, bad days and mediocre days, among other day types. When it comes to pure basketball-related activities, he clearly was in over his head for a long time, but you can’t complain that the guy isn’t down to spend money in order to try and help the Knicks win. He gave Phil Jackson $60 million to do a job he had never done, for goodness sake.
It really does seem as if Dolan was somewhat spooked by the movement that took place prior to his insertion of Jackson as team president, when Knicks fans were preparing to protest outside of MSG and demand that he sell the team. That’s the moment when it appears Dolan decided he was better off being a hands-off owner, thus letting someone else take the fall for the sorry state of the Knicks.
Jackson turned out to be the wrong guy for the job (to be fair, he drafted Kristaps Porzingis), but once it became clear that the Zen Master had to go, Dolan did something we’re not used to. He fired Phil, and then instead of seeking out the next big name that would generate headlines, he promoted Steve Mills to president and allowed Mills to hire Scott Perry as general manager.
“Today marks a culture change for our organization where we re-establish the pride, work ethic and responsibility that comes with playing for the Knicks and representing New York,” Dolan said in a statement at the time of Mills’ promotion and Perry’s hiring.
In that same statement, he praised Mills as the “right person to take on this role” and noted that the team was turning to an “ambitious plan that centers on building a young team focused on player development, communication and teamwork.”
Most importantly, Dolan concluded his statement with the following: “As Steve and Scott move forward, I will continue to not be involved in the operations of the team.”
That was the summer of 2017, and those comments represented the last public peep Dolan made about the Knicks until his recent ESPN interview. For now, it appears that Dolan realizes the best chance for the Knicks to become a contender is to let the basketball experts handle the business of building a team. He even said so to ESPN, telling O’Connor that in the past he was more involved than he maybe should have been, noting that “the more you get involved, you start to learn what you don’t know.”
The Knicks record may be terrible at the moment, and it’s likely only going to get worse as the season progresses, but ‘Bockers are trending in the right direction as far as developing players and building an actual team. Dolan seems to be motivated by a desire to win, even if it’s only to shut up his critics, and for that he deserves a bit of Christmas cheer.
So here’s to James Dolan, who we all hope has finally come to terms with the fact that his best chance to win a championship is to simply let the real basketball minds do the basketball work while he enjoys his life of luxury. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!