In 2014 I taught a summer class. My last paycheck from the spring semester had come and gone and I wouldn’t be paid again until late August. That meant I had to get through two months without any income. That meant a lot of white bread, peanut butter and spaghetti, day in, day out. By mid-August I was often eating one meal a day.
One night, down to my last dollar, I went to the store, exhausted. I knew I wasn’t taking care of my body. I debated between a head of broccoli or a can of chick peas. I missed fresh vegetables, but the chick peas would be more filling. I went with the peas.
When I got in line to pay, I dropped the can. As I bent to pick it up, I spotted a $20 bill on the ground. I pocketed the money and flew out of line terrified someone had seen what I did, that any second someone would shout at me, maybe arrest me. They didn’t. I went back through the store, slowly now, teary-eyed at my good fortune, luxuriating in my newfound options. Louis XIV never felt rich as me after $20 of groceries.
10 years earlier, when I began to pursue becoming a professor, I never imagined I’d end up one while also being broke and painfully hungry. More than one of my grad school professors had invited our classes to their homes for meals, tables resplendent with food and wine, a glimpse of heaven on Earth: here were people who cared about something, spent their lives talking to others who shared their care, and lived well while doing so. 10 years later here I was, renting a moldy basement apartment with no fire exit, always needing new excuses to not go out with friends for dinner or drinks because I couldn’t afford one night out. The dream I’d spent a decade chasing didn’t exist, but I couldn’t know that until after I’d committed to chasing its ghost. The greatest lie the devil ever told was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
The greatest lie James Dolan ever told came in June, in an email to MSG employees stating why there’d be no official statement regarding George Floyd or the growing Black Lives Matter movement: “As companies in the business of sports and entertainment...we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters.” I don’t know James Dolan, personally. I don’t know what other lies he’s told. Maybe there are some whoppers. His son is pretty jacked; maybe Quentin’s real dad is Dwayne Johnson, rather than our Bartlett pear-shaped bluesman. The reason I call this quote his greatest lie is because of all the privilege and damage it assumes as his prerogative.
In last week’s episode of This Week In Hell, Dolan is irate because Max Rose, a Democrat who represents Staten Island in the House of Representatives, said this:
“I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace. They don’t make the playoffs. Nothing’s happening. Every year that they don’t make the playoffs, New York City loses out. We lose a piece of our soul. Sell tomorrow. Sell today. Do it for the good of all of us, brother!”
Nothing in that statement is breaking news or remotely controversial. It’s been written about for years, dreamed about for longer. The paying customers made their feelings on the matter clear earlier this year:
Dolan’s response to Representative Rose included this huffing and puffing in an email to his buddies:
“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform. I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. . . .Please join me in helping Nicole [Malliotakis] defeat Max Rose for Congress. It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection. The most you can donate is $2,800. I cannot do this alone due to the limit on campaign contributions.”
You may not consider a window into the depraved delusions of an activist billionaire all that illuminating. But as my fiancee confessed last night after she went waaaay too far down a Reddit hole, knowing something exists and getting up close are very different indeed.
Dolan doesn’t like hearing criticism, whether it’s from a lifetime Knicks fan or a season-ticket holder or Charles Oakley or 19,763 paying customers or Rose, a Democrat who won in the 11th District, NYC’s most conservative district, a man who also received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan. Dolan doesn’t live in Staten Island, and if his Pontius Pilate post-George Floyd hand-washing is to be taken as sincere, he doesn’t feel qualified to speak up on social matters...unless he’s offended. Then, as noted in the New York Post, he sends his email not only to his friends, but “other NBA owners,” and makes sure to include a “personalized fundraising link.” This matters.
It matters because it’s a glimpse into the bloated entitlement of a class of people who think they deserve everything while more and more of humanity goes without enough. The masses grow increasingly detached from lives of dignity while the billionaire class rapes the Earth in search of more jewels for their gilded, garish crowns. It matters whenever someone grows powerful enough to mistake gravity as emanating from themselves. Gravity as a force is, if not benign, at least random and unfocused. There’s safety in its detachment from intent. Gravity with an agenda? With the power to decide who stays up and who goes down? That matters.
Dolan finds it “very disrespectful to [Rose’s] constituents that [he] would think that this is something that would help them make up their mind about who should represent them in Congress.” I imagine voters care less about whether the Knicks lose 50 or 60 games next season versus a global pandemic, climate change, the constantly growing chasm between the wealthy and the working-class and a domestic Nazi angling to instill a fascist regime. But it’s par for the course that a man who thinks the clause “Black lives matter” is bad for business and whose press conferences are rarer than the Knicks reaching the playoffs is suddenly outspoken with his gob and his wad after somebody points out the emperor’s new clothes look like a 20-year-old nightmare.
“I think we’re going to start taking more aggressive positions, particularly in New York politics,” Dolan told the Post. “New York is really a one-party city, particularly the city; I don’t think that’s healthy democracy. I think that you will see us be very pro-two party democracy and do more to help balance the scales.”
Jon Levine reported that Dolan, via MSG Sports, gave $50,000 to a political action committee committed to helping Republicans re-take the House. When George Floyd can’t breathe, “companies in the business of sports and entertainment...are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters.” When Dolan can’t stand on the balcony and see only smiles, hear only cheers, then and only then he finds religion.
Are you tired of reading these kinds of articles? Some of you are. Am I tired of writing them? Not for one minute. They don’t uplift my soul. But they make me angry. And I need my anger, because whether billionaires are silent in the face of widespread injustice or vocal investing in their own self-interest, that’s propaganda.
The best propaganda doesn’t try to change your mind — it knows you’re on guard against that. The best propaganda lets you change your own mind. It knows the easiest way to do that is to make you too tired to react. Too tired to care. Too tired to be angry. “All billionaires suck. Who cares what one does when so many others do bad things too?” Because anytime any existence is at stake — the existence of representative democracy; the existence of all people being equal and entitled to equal rights; the existence of Black lives; the existence of hope — one must fight like hell to endure. You may not topple the system or the person oppressing you. But you endure until it’s your turn to seize the day.
The Great Divide is the most recent album by Dolan’s
musical fantasy camp band, The Straight Shot. The fifth track, “I Should’ve Known,” is his musical response to the allegations nearly 100 women brought against his friend Harvey Weinstein of rape and sexual assault. “I Should’ve Known” includes a line linking Weinstein to “Men who take what don’t belong to them.”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black: due to a property tax exemption granted to MSG by New York City in 1982 to incentivize the Knicks and Rangers to stay in Manhattan — one someone forgot to attach an expiration date to — the Garden’s avoided paying over a half-billion dollars in taxes due New York City, a savings that increases every year. Earlier this month nine members of the City Council called for MSG and Barclays to pay their fair share. Given how aggressively Dolan puts his money where his mouth is when he feels insulted by one politician’s opinion on the Knicks, what might he do when nine come after millions of dollars?
It’s a messed-up world. Always has been. The president* who lost in 2016 by three million votes insists he won’t accept 2020’s results unless he wins and that he’s entitled to a third term in office come 2024. A judge closer to 90 years old than 80 dies, Mitt Romney reminds us he’s no hero, and for a democracy on life support these feel like major threats. There’s enough darkness to curse for a lifetime.
There are points of light, too, if you stop and breathe and wait for the spark. The devil can’t win if you’re on to him. He can hurt you, blind you, mute and mangle you. But he can’t get inside the little room inside your heart, the one for which there is no key, the one that only opens from the inside. Winning is often as simple — and as difficult — as enduring. It’s easy to do that on your best days. When the bad days come, what can you do? Keep on keeping on.
If you’re in need, someday that $20 bill’s gonna find you. If you’re in luck, your $20 will find someone who needs it. If you’re spending 2500 $20s to push an elected official out of office because you feel entitled to 25 million $20s in tax breaks and zero criticism after 20 years of failure, you’re right: you are unqualified to opine on society. But not for the reasons you think.