[Editor’s note: This is guest post from friend-of-the-blog Dan Litvin.]
Almost 13 years ago, Chris Broussard, then of the New York Times, revealed that former Knicks Charlie Ward, Allan Houston and Kurt Thomas had made anti-Semitic comments to a fellow Gray Lady reporter that had been covering the Knicks that season. That reporter, Eric Koningsberg, enjoyed what seems today like unprecedented access to the organization’s players. During a Bible study, Ward told Koningsberg that “[Jews] had [Jesus’s] blood on their hands.” Houston followed, “Matthew 26, verse 67. Then they spit in Jesus’ face and hit him with their fists.” Upon this misguided foundation, Thomas reportedly pressured Koningsberg to convert to Christianity.
Not long after, the Garden’s media policy changed. According to long-time beat writer Frank Isola, the players’ revelation of their Anti-Semitic beliefs was the impetus for Knicks owner James Dolan’s infamous and long-derided media policy. Today, players, coaches and executives must speak with the media only in the presence of a cadre of Garden apparachiks that are ready to snuff out a potentially damaging revelation at the slightest whiff of controversy.
Still, MSG’s draconian policy did not prevent Garden employees from embarrassing themselves with insensitive (to say the least) comments. Perplexingly, Dolan preferred to litigate against former marketing executive Anucha Browne-Sanders rather than settle her discrimination suit; a decision that inevitably led to testimony that sent the shocking/disturbing-o-meter pinging deep into the red in a manner not dissimilar to the comments attributed to Donald Sterling this weekend.
The NBA acted quickly. While it was never made public, it is widely understood that then NBA Commissioner David Stern forced Dolan to temporarily distance himself from the team’s day-to-day operations, remove President Steve Mills and GM Isiah Thomas, and install the respected and steady Pacers executive Donnie Walsh as team President to restore respectability. Walsh spoke freely to the media during his three-year tenure but when it ended, Dolan reinstated his media policy.
The media policy does nothing to prevent his executives and other employees from harboring disgusting beliefs. Houston remains a high-level executive, and Larry Johnson, who works in community relations for the Knicks evinced a selective, paradoxical bias by calling for African-Americans to form their own league, after tweeting that homosexuals “don’t belong in a man’s locker room.”
But the policy probably does mitigate (even if it cannot eliminate) the chance that those beliefs will threaten to disrupt Dolan’s fiefdom. It is a testament to Dolan’s paranoia that he – unlike many other owners – has not yet spoken publicly about Sterling, lest someone take his commentary the wrong way and seek to wrench his precious franchise/plaything from his hands once more.
New Knicks President Phil Jackson has displayed a policy of openness with the media, but in light of what is sure to be swift and harsh punishment for Sterling, Dolan will surely consider whether his discomfort (or paranoia) regarding such openness will manifest again.