NEW YORK — Roughly 75 minutes before the Knicks and Clippers tipped off at Madison Square Garden, Doc Rivers squinted at a grainy photograph. A paper, tucked inside a clear, plastic frame, had been plastered on the wall outside Los Angeles’ locker room, a collage highlighting Rivers, a member of the 1992-95 Knicks, and three other former New York players: Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton and Mike Woodson.
Later the team’s head coach, Woodson played for the Knicks during his 1980-81 rookie season. His voluminous afro and mustache—nobody would blame you for confusing young Woody with Lionel Richie—and antiquated thigh-high shorts were pictured in the top right corner of the paper. At the center of the four players’ photos: an orange circle with the words “Once a Knick, always a Knick,” emblazoned with blue accents. “You were clean back then, Woody!” Rivers yelled.
Midway through the first quarter, it was another former Knick doing the screaming. While play ensued on The Garden’s hallowed floor, Charles Oakley waded through the sellout crowd, reportedly shouting at Knicks owner James Dolan, sitting comfortably in his black, leather courtside seat. Nearly a dozen MSG security guards swarmed the former power forward, wearing a scowl as if he was protecting Patrick Ewing’s paint. He persisted screaming at Dolan and, emotions swelling, began shoving the security staff attempting to quell his cries. Oakley was eventually dragged into the bowels of The World’s Most Famous Arena, handcuffed and detained.
Oakley was ultimately charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal trespassing. And to think, before the evening began, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters: “I kind of—not was warned—but expected that there was going to be something all the time. It’s lived up to the billing. It’s been something out here.”
The scuffle took place about 30 feet from Hornacek’s chair on the Knicks’ pine. “I played once in a Phoenix where there was a big rumble about 12 rows up from the bench,” he said postgame. And that was it. The coach answered two questions regarding another hapless Knicks loss—Oakley’s scuffle overshadowed New York blowing a seven-point lead to open the fourth quarter—before offering his Suns anecdote. Knicks PR concluded the press conference immediately following Hornacek’s response to the Oakley incident and then extracted his response from the official postgame transcript.
Rivers, Oakley’s Knicks teammate during his lone All-Star campaign in 1993-94, appeared visibly perturbed. "I thought for a second I was gonna run down there, but then I thought, what the hell am I gonna do?" he said postgame. “It’s sad. It’s really sad. He’s the best teammate in the world. I’ve been in the league a long time, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Precedence hasn’t mattered in New York for quite some time. The Knicks have made inordinary a regularity, perfectly summed by The Garden faithful chanting “Free Oakley” as they fled the arena and poured out into midtown Manhattan. Oakley won’t spend the night in prison, according to the New York Daily News, only perpetuating the latest spin of the Knicks’ 2016-17 carousel.