I did not know what I was getting into when I became a Knicks fan. I got into it to find a bond between my father and me. He grew up as a New York street ball legend who listened to the Knicks on transistor radios with his buddies, huddled around a car drinking tallboys and sharing a joint. As a chubby weirdo with no athletic abilities but a penchant for research, I wanted to connect with that. In rooting for the Knicks, I connected with him.
I was only five years into my New York Knicks fandom when the news broke of Anucha Browne Sanders accusing MSG and former Knicks executive Isiah Thomas of sexual harassment and silencing. The accusation was the worst event of an epically bad decade, warranting fans to show up to games at MSG wearing paper bags over their heads. In Sanders v. Madison Square Garden, Brown Sanders won and was awarded $11.6 million in damages in what would become the NBA’s highest-profile harassment/wrongful termination case.
Back then, I was naive and unaware of how long the swamp would remain undrained.
Looking back on the case today, it’s evident that it was an important epoch in the history of James Dolan’s ownership of the Knicks. Especially considering the newest accusation that accuses Dolan of sexual misconduct, sex trafficking and links him to convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.
The Browne case consisted of 1,606 pages of transcript from 22 witnesses, including Dolan and then star Stephon Marbury. It revealed explosive allegations of an SUV sexcapade laced with F-bombs and a shocking order by the team for Browne Sanders to tell other female execs to seduce the refs. It also claimed one of Marbury’s cousins – who worked for MSG — told a female intern, “I bet you that p—y looks good.”
Browne Sanders, a graduate of Northwestern University and a former player, entered the male-dominated world of sports management. She eventually became senior vice president of marketing and business operations for the New York Knicks basketball team.
Today, young Knicks fans enjoying the team’s recent rise out of misery and into competitive basketball were either too young or not born to remember the darkest era in Knicks history. But that lawsuit proved a destabilizing and degrading truth about the Knicks franchise under Dolan —it’s rotten to the core.
Many Knicks scions and sycophants parading as fans act like interns on Twitter and other social media platforms. They ignore the headlines to hold onto their free tickets and media opportunities. Knicks fans my age, in their mid to late 30s and older, remember the dark time and can articulate how familiar these newest accusations against Dolan feel.
Dolan has been honest about his past friendship with Weinstein. He even wrote a crappy song about it titled, “I Should’ve Known” with his band, JD & The Straight Shot. The lyrics go:
We were friends
We were friends
Talked for hours without end
About his latest story
How to deal with fame and glory
All the girls who adored him
Catered to his every whim
Nothing he could lose
All he need to do was choose
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
I should’ve thrown
Myself across his tracks
Stopped him from these vile attacks
I should’ve known
We believed and didn’t see
Through the lies he told us all
They led him to his endless fall
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
A chilling story from 2013 has resurfaced, thrusting Dolan into the spotlight for alleged sexual misconduct. Kellye Croft, a masseuse working with the Eagles on tour, claims Dolan — who was on the tour with his band as openers — used his power and position to coerce her into unwanted sexual acts on multiple occasions despite her explicit refusals. She felt “obligated” due to the pressure and power dynamics. She claims that she was “adamant” to Dolan that she did want to have a sexual relationship with him but was still pressured into doing so. It happened several other times because she felt “obligated to do so.” It gets worse. Croft also claimed in 2014, Dolan invited her on tour, where he introduced her to Weinstein. She alleges it was on this occasion that Weinstein raped her.
It makes sense Weinstein and Dolan were friends, both are affluent, well-connected men from New York. They ran in the same circles.
As a Knicks fan in Texas, I have felt on an island all 23 years I’ve followed the team. For the first 21 years, it was just my pops and me. Then I found Twitter and realized almost all Knicks fans hate Dolan, except a few micro-celebrity lemmings who get paid by MSG to host events and spread positive propaganda. Over the last 20 years, we would confuse people or get laughed at when we asked neighborhood chain restaurants to “put on the Knicks.” Undoubtedly, the bartender, or even worse, a buffoon Mavs fan, would say something about the Knicks or how awful James Dolan was. Even in Buffalo Wild Wings in South Dallas, random Mav fans know about how nasty of a human being Dolan is.
Everyone knows how evil Dolan is, especially those he enables, pays and props up. Once you show loyalty to Dolan, you cannot do much to lose his good graces. Two of MSG’s most prominent figures accused by Browne Sanders – Thomas and Steve Mills – were still employed by the company after the case was finished. Brown Sanders said she went to Mills first about her complaints about Thomas’ sexual statements and offensive remarks.
Mills, who was president of MSG Sports at the time, seemed non-committal – “What do you want me to do?” he responded, according to Browne Sanders – and she returned to her office. Mills then called to relay a warning, according to Browne Sanders.
“He said, ‘Well, you should be prepared that Isiah is going to start a rumor about you having an affair with Jeff Nix, another employee in the Knicks’ office,” Browne Sanders, who was married at the time, said. “I said to Steve, ‘Is that a threat? He said, ‘No, no, it is not a threat. I said, ‘Do I need to find a lawyer? And he said, ‘No, you don’t need to find a lawyer.’ The conversation ended.”
That disturbing exchange prompted Browne Sanders to find a lawyer. In 2013, Mills returned to the Knicks after a stint at Magic Johnson Enterprises, where he helped create the Athletes & Entertainers Wealth Management Group, LLC. Dolan selected Mills as the executive vice president and general manager after firing Glen Grundwald, who shaped much of the Carmelo Anthony era. After the disastrous Phil Jackson era, another Dolan blunder, the Knicks announced in 2017 that Mills would be the organization’s new president of basketball operations. He would last three seasons before being fired. Today, his LinkedIn states he is a Madison Square Garden Sports Board Member. Again, Once you are in Dolan’s circle, you rarely leave, no matter what kind of devilish behavior you commit.
Since being handed the Knicks on a silver platter by his father, Charles Dolan, in 1999, the team has been in a professional and moral decline. Before Dolan took over his hands-on mangling, the Knicks boasted a dominant .522 winning percentage under previous ownership (1973-1999). Since Dolan took charge in 2000, that number has plummeted to .419. This 10.3% drop translates to a staggering 304 fewer wins under Dolan’s leadership, punctuated by awful trades, squandered draft picks and a revolving door of coaches, “stars,” general managers and presidents of basketball operations.
The newest accusation against Dolan comes when the Knicks have been at their most competent under his ownership. With Leon Rose at the helm, Dolan has stepped back from basketball operations after forcing the franchise to trade for Anthony in 2010 and micromanaging for two decades. The Knicks have made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and seem poised for another appearance this season. They just pulled off a trade for OG Anunoby, revolutionizing their defense acumen.
But as most things rotten, it starts from the head, and the reek of Dolan haunts the walls of MSG like a corpse. It was only a matter of time before Dolan’s personality and actions derailed the franchise again. Dolan was not named as a perpetrator of the harassment within MSG in the Brown Sanders 2007 lawsuit. But he was certainly at the helm. The mid-2000s was Dolan at his worst. He was involved in basketball decisions at every level. His grubby fingerprints were all over Thomas’s hire and the power he wielded in MSG.
Frustrated by Dolan’s constant GM and coach firings, exorbitant ticket hikes, and settled harassment lawsuit, New York Knicks fans simmered for seven years while he remained silent. With no explanation for the Thomas debacle, the Marbury meltdown or the Donnie Walsh disappearance, their anger and disillusionment only grew. It wasn’t until a New York Post interview in 2013 that Dolan finally spoke on the team’s state. In that interview, he finally admitted he would never rehire Thomas. But in the ensuing years, he would use facial-recognition technology for his petty grievances, have Knicks legend Charles Oakley dragged out of the arena and write responses to fans belittling them for insulting his leadership
The lawyer representing the plaintiff against Dolan in the latest suit also represented Oakley in his lawsuit against Dolan. Oh, the much-deserved irony. At least we forget Dolan’s notorious media policy, a dystopian invention marked by “systematic repression,” stifled criticism with alleged spying and “enemies lists,” and nearly forced the NBA to redefine press liberties. Dolan has gone out of his way to make himself unlikable by any and everyone, especially Knicks fans.
As this lawsuit plays out in court, the evidence will be presented. It is possibly similar to how the NBA forced Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA could force Dolan to sell the Knicks. If anything, through nepotism, cronyism and corruption, Dolan has asked for it. If one thing can unite Knicks fans, it’s Dolan selling the team. One just has to look at the lyrics of Dolan’s masterpiece on Weinstein to find Dolan unknowingly condemning himself while condemning his former friend, Weinstein,
“I should’ve known
I should’ve known
And what of the others
In some way all my brothers
Sitting on the very top
Could not hear the call to stop
Behind locked doors the eyes of men
Who take what don’t belong to them
From those who seek the bright and starry
Were threatened with ‘You will be sorry.’ “