NEW YORK—In a manoeuvre that owes more to Austin Powers than James Bond, the New York Knicks’ owner, James L. Dolan, may have tarnished his team’s reputation, and that of his best player, with a stunt involving two microphones and a plan to surreptitiously record on-court comments by Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, the plan was carried out in the most conspicuous, ham-handed manner since the 1960s sitcom “Get Smart” featured spies hiding in trees.
The bizarre story, first reported by The Star-Ledger of Newark this week, detailed how Dolan had a microphone prominently stationed on each baseline of Madison Square Garden’s court to pick up player chatter during last Friday’s 108-101 loss to the Chicago Bulls (and also, it is being reported, during last Sunday’s 100-87 win over the New Orleans Hornets).
The narrative the team is advancing, after being prodded by the media, is that Dolan had made the decision to have every word said by and to Anthony digitally recorded as a way to protect his star forward against players who may attempt to provoke him. On Jan. 7, Anthony had a much-publicized altercation with Boston Celtics centre Kevin Garnett, after which Anthony was given a one-game suspension.
“I got an owner that looks out for me,” Anthony said at the Knicks’ practice in London on Wednesday when asked for his reaction to Dolan’s actions. “You can’t beat that for an owner—to try to protect their players, to protect his players. It just shows how much loyalty Mr. Dolan has.”
Yet, using such powerful recording equipment, stationed mere feet from team benches, and having the opportunity to listen in on private conversations between opposing teammates and coaches, on court and during timeouts, does not exactly paint the Atlantic Division’s leading team in the most flattering light.
And with a team in town like the Bulls, who had outmuscled the Knicks two times this season (a 110-106 December win at the Garden and a 95-83 victory at the United Center a few weeks earlier), that narrative could easily gain momentum. That the Knicks, one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams so far this season, would crack open the door of impropriety is a little hard to fathom.
The more logical (and official) explanation for the microphones is likely the truest: Dolan indeed wanted to support Anthony, by publicly protecting him. He also wanted to ensure that his team’s greatest asset would not be targeted in the future, as he was by Garnett, who supposedly made a vulgar remark about Anthony’s wife, La La, an actress.
The last time the Knicks and the Bulls tangled, the game was marred by confrontations and hard fouls, and Anthony, Tyson Chandler and coach Mike Woodson were ejected. So it is not as if this decidedly unorthodox action was unwarranted.
By directing the microphones to focus solely on Anthony’s conversations, as published accounts have reported, Dolan created the possibility that anything he hoped to obtain to protect Anthony might instead be used against him.
In the heat of battle, comments are made by even the saintliest of NBA stars. Players talk. It is the second-most popular thing they do on the court. Granted, it is generally frowned upon to move beyond the topics of wealth, looks and talent and into the more taboo terrain of family and health. No matter. The best defence is obvious: Understand the talking’s purpose and ignore it. Or at least use it as motivation.
Then the microphones arrived, first Dolan’s and now the reporters’. If you have followed the Knicks in recent years, you have seen this series of developments before.
Another thing Dolan probably should have considered: This is New York City, where changing your breakfast order at a deli can elicit a profane comment. The city is built from tough stock and expects its athletes to follow suit.
Historically, the Knicks have never been the most physically gifted team in the NBA. The successful rosters of the past have been populated by hard-nosed grinders — from Phil Jackson to Charles Oakley to, now, Jason Kidd. What the Knicks’ owner did was the equivalent of a child’s mother confronting the school bully at recess — in front of the entire school.
So why would the Knicks hatch a plan that would not remove the bull’s-eye from the back of No. 7’s jersey, but enlarge it? Surely there are veteran executives in the Knicks’ organization who asked this question of the owner.
Perhaps Dolan simply decided not to listen.