MANHATTAN (CN) – NBA star Charles Oakley on Tuesday sued New York Knicks owner James Dolan, demanding damages for defamation and assault and battery for the highly publicized incident in which the former All-Star was ejected from Madison Square Garden in handcuffs.
Oakley sued Dolan, MSG Networks, Madison Square Garden Company and MSG Sports & Entertainment in Federal Court. The 17-year veteran power forward spent 10 years with the Knicks, including the team’s 1994 Eastern Conference Championship. He says in the complaint that his relationship with Dolan has been poor since Dolan bought the team in 1999.
“Dolan constantly disrespected Mr. Oakley, refusing to make eye contact or shake his hand during meetings, denying him the type of fan appreciation nights given to much less popular and successful members of the Knicks, and even making him purchase his own tickets to attend games at the arena he called home for a decade,” the complaint states.
Oakley, a tough defender popular with Knicks fans, says he was “eager to bury the hatchet with the newly installed owner of the Knicks,” and even approached NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to set up a meeting with Dolan, but none was ever arranged.
The trouble erupted on Feb. 8 this year as Oakley and Dolan watched a Knicks game. Oakley says his seat was several rows behind Dolan’s, and that he “proceeded to his seats without speaking to Defendant Dolan or acknowledging him in any way.”
“Incredibly, within a few minutes of reaching his seats, Mr. Oakley was approached by three large men identifying themselves as being members of Madison Square Garden’s security team who ordered him, without explanation, to leave the arena,” the complaint states.
Oakley says he asked why he was being ejected, whereupon “one of the security guards proceeded to berate him publicly by demanding loudly, ‘Why are you sitting so close to Mr. Dolan?’”
Two security guards grabbed him and pushed him to the ground. When he got back to his feet, “surrounded by several large security guards, Mr. Oakley pushed their hands away in self-defense,” the complaint states.
It continues: “Within seconds, Mr. Oakley was turned around so his back faced security, grabbed by six officials and thrown onto the ground. He was then put into restraints and the security guards roughly threw him out of the Garden, again dragging him to the ground in the process.” He was taken outside, arrested and charged with assault.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Oakley says the Knicks’ Twitter account that night included the statement: “Charles Oakley came to the game tonight and behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner. He has been ejected and is currently being arrested by the New York City Police Department. He was a great Knick and we hope he gets some help soon.”
Oakley says the statement “we hope he gets some help soon” was defamatory, “as it blatantly insinuated that Mr. Oakley had a substance abuse problem of some kind.”
He says it later became apparent that the Knicks were engaging in a “coordinated media strategy” designed “to propagate the lie that he is an alcoholic.”
The Knicks doubled down on the accusation in the next day, stating, “there are dozens of security staff, employees and NYPD that witnessed Oakley’s abusive behavior.” Dolan appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Michael Kay Show” two days later, where Oakley says he repeated the slander.
According to a transcript, Oakley says, Dolan stated: “Charles has got a problem. We’ve said it before; he’s his own worst problem. People have to understand that. He has a problem with anger. He’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol.”
Dolan added: “We know he said on TV that he was drinking beforehand. We heard statements from police that he appeared to be impaired.”
Dolan himself has acknowledged struggling with alcoholism over the years, and acknowledged it in a February 2015 email in which “Dolan accused a fan of being an alcoholic merely based on the fan’s sending an angry e-mail to him,” Oakley says in the complaint, which cites Dolan’s email.
Oakley says that he, himself, has no such problem. “Dolan’s statements were and are entirely without basis in fact, as defendant Dolan was well aware. Mr. Oakley has never had a problem with excessive anger nor has he ever abused alcohol or any other drug,” he says in the complaint.
In August, Oakley reached a plea deal to resolve the criminal charges against him, which will be dropped if he stays out of trouble for six months and keeps away from Madison Square Garden for a year.
In his civil case, he seeks damages for defamation, libel, slander, assault, battery, false imprisonment, abuse of process, and denial of public accommodation based on perception of alcoholism, a disability.
He is represented by Douglas Wigdor.
Madison Square Garden said in a statement: “This is a frivolous lawsuit and nothing more than another attempt by Mr. Oakley to garner attention. We will deal with this accordingly.”
Oakley did not hesitate to take a jump shot against Dolan in his 21-page complaint.
“Since defendant Dolan became chairman of the Knicks, they almost immediately relinquished their status as one of the NBA’s premiere teams, winning only a single lone playoff series since the turn of the century,” the complaint states.
“Indeed, the Knicks have unfortunately become a laughingstock in the NBA, decried for their incompetence both on and off the court.
“The Knicks’ reputation sunk to unfathomable new lows in 2007 when defendants Dolan and Madison Square Garden LP were found liable for retaliating against a former employee, Anucha Browne Sanders, who had complained of having been sexually harassed by the then-coach of the Knicks.
“In fact, the jury found defendant Dolan personally liable for retaliating against Ms. Sanders, and awarded her $3 million in punitive damages from him for his unlawful conduct.
“This pattern of retaliating against Defendants’ former employees who refused to accept Defendant Dolan’s unlawful conduct sadly repeated itself with Mr. Oakley.”