Charles Oakley, second from right, at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 8. (ESPN)
The forcible ejection of former New York Knick Charles Oakley from Madison Square Garden on Feb. 8, which led to his arrest by New York City police, was the culmination of a long-running feud between the ex-power forward and team owner James Dolan, Oakley alleges in a suit filed Tuesday.
Oakley’s claims against Dolan include defamation, assault, false imprisonment, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and violations of the state and local human rights laws.
According to court papers and media reports, Dolan told ESPN Radio that he had Oakley removed from the venue within minutes of taking his seat at the Knicks’ Feb. 8 matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers because he was drunk and “looking for a fight.”
“He’s both physically and verbally abusive,” Dolan said, according to court papers. “He may have a problem with alcohol.”
But Oakley—in a suit that reads at times like a script for a sports documentary, as it ticks off his career highlights—said he wasn’t drunk at the game and that he was behaving appropriately.
With respect to his claim of an ADA violation, Oakley said that he was denied access to the Garden based on the defendants’ perception that he is an alcoholic.
When three guards approached Oakley to remove him, he said, he pushed the guards’ hands away as an act of self-defense. Dolan’s statements, as well as statements made by the Knicks’ public relations staff after the incident, are an attempt to denigrate his standing with Knicks fans.
“However, as he did throughout his playing career, Mr. Oakley has refused to walk to the bench in shame,” his suit stated. “Instead, holding his head up high, Mr. Oakley files this complaint to set the record straight and to hold defendants responsible for their reprehensible conduct.”
Oakley was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of trespassing related to the incident.
In August, Oakley worked out an agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to take an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal in which the charges will be dropped if he stays out of trouble for six months, according to media reports.
As part of the deal, Oakley agreed to stay away from the Garden for a year.
An attorney for the Garden’s security detail, Jim Walden of Walden Macht & Haran, criticized the outcome of the case in a court filing, saying that Oakley had been abusive toward security staff in previous occasions and that Oakley’s celebrity status won him a measure of leniency in the case.
Oakley is represented by Douglas Wigdor and two associates from Wigdor’s firm, Renan Varghese and Alex Hartzband.
Oakley, who played for the National Basketball Association for 17 years, played with the Knicks for a decade, beginning in 1988.
Dolan took ownership of the team in 1999. Oakley said that, while he does not know the source of Dolan’s animosity toward him, Oakley refused to “kiss the ring” of the heir to the Garden.
Dolan’s alleged indignities against Oakley include refusing to look him in the eye or shake his hand, denying him fan appreciation nights that were granted to less successful players and forcing him to pay for his own tickets to Knicks games.
In an emailed statement on behalf of the Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the arena and the Knicks, spokesman Jonathan Supranowitz said the company would deal with the suit “accordingly.”
“This is a frivolous lawsuit and nothing more than another attempt by Mr. Oakley to garner attention,” the statement reads.