February 11, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) Ask Knicks fans about James Dolan, and you might hear that he's an incompetent owner and meddlesome manager, the reason their team has plummeted to the bottom of the NBA.

Ask others, and you might hear that he's a brilliant businessman, committed to charity, and driven to make sure those same fans have the best experience possible at the games.

Only one thing is certain: Even in a season when he's taken a lower profile, Dolan can never completely hide.

He was back in the headlines this week, right when the focus was supposed to be on his arena. The revelation of his angry email to a longtime fan, just seven days before Madison Square Garden hosts the NBA All-Star game, has charged up a fan base that's already fed up, confirming their worst thoughts about him.

Or maybe it shows how much he does care and is frustrated that he hasn't been able to deliver, as the most successful owners would feel.

''It's always the owner's responsibility for everything. Some people complained after we won a championship that it would have been easier if I had done A, B, C,'' Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in an email.

''It's just the nature of the business that we are in that if someone complains, the media will make it a story. We all love Headline Porn. Sometimes as an owner it can grate on you. Just as it grates on a player.''

Dolan almost never shares his thoughts about the Knicks - he hadn't taken questions from the media for about seven years before the press conference to announce Phil Jackson's hiring as president of basketball operations in March. Dolan made it clear then that he was giving Jackson full control and stepping back, but that's not good enough for some fans.

They have watched the Knicks become one of the league's sorriest franchises, blaming Dolan for driving away a Jeremy Lin or Donnie Walsh, or keeping away Steve Kerr. So when one longtime fan sent Dolan a critical email, he responded by telling the man that he was a ''hateful mess,'' speculating that he may be an alcoholic and telling him to go root for the Nets because the Knicks didn't want him.

Commissioner Adam Silver didn't punish Dolan, but said he preferred that everyone in the league always treat others with respect.

''Having said that, I think we all have had days when we wish we had not hit send on an email and that may have been one of those days for Mr. Dolan,'' Silver said.

''In this case, Jim sent in response to a harsh email, a harsh response. And it's not the preferred way of communication in this league, but it happened.''

The email appeared on Deadspin.com on Sunday, and within days a group of fans had set up a website called knicks4sale.com, seeking donations to erect a billboard near MSG. Throw in a fan rally last season and a group of fans in the front row wearing paper bags over their heads during a nationally televised game against Houston, it was the latest example of how tired the fans are of Dolan.

But he's not going anywhere and many around the league wouldn't want him to because he's good for business. He has turned the Knicks into the NBA's second-most valuable franchise, according to Forbes' most recent rankings, and spent $1 billion to renovate Madison Square Garden.

Players see the Knicks annually rack up one of the league's highest payrolls and can't question his desire to build a winner. He keeps many around after: More than a dozen Knicks have received full-time jobs after their playing days in the last 15 years.

''He was around and you see him. You don't have that a lot with owners like that,'' said Memphis forward Zach Randolph, a former Knick. ''You don't have a lot of owners that are at the game because they've got so much going on.''

Dolan wins praise for his charitable efforts, from the benefit concerts the Garden has hosted after Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, to the 500 events for children the Garden of Dreams foundation stages annually.

But his team loses games - the Knicks went into their final game before the break at 10-42 - and in the eyes of their fans, Dolan can't win for losing.

''The only constant'' the fan website says under the header Incompetent Management, ''James Dolan.''

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AP freelance writer Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee contributed to this report.

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