You Don’t Knock Oakley
What Charles Oakley really means to Knicks fans, and why James Dolan can’t shake his importance
With a win over the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks fans and players alike are enjoying a hint of relieve in the midst of a horrifically embarrassing season plagued with scandal and sub-par play. Supplementing a bad record with bad publicity from the front office sounds like a PR nightmare. Stakeholders watching their owner ban a franchise legend is egregiously horrifying.
At least when the Knicks fuck up, they make sure they fuck up all the way.
Although this story ended up semi-sweet due to the intervention of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA owner Michael Jordan, Charles Oakley is understandably still holding a grudge against Knicks owner James Dolan. While the sports world is focused on the Knicks dramatic interpretation of the Treaty of Versailles, maybe revisiting the Knicks fairly successful past is important to overcome their current woes.
Instead of turning our noses up and phishing with, “Oh, you’re a fan of Charles Oakley now? Name three of his songs” New York Knicks fanatics and NBA watchers should both take a look at why the big man aptly nicknamed “Oak” was a huge assets to the Knicks in the 90's and has the resume of a franchise legend.
From the mid-80's through his tenure with the Knicks, Oak was a pillar of strength. He was an enforcer.
Leaving Virginia Union University as a power forward, he was selected by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, but was immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls the year after Michael Jordan’s rookie season. His role? Be Michael Jordan’s on-court body guard. That alone is a testament to his badassery.
Oakley earned All-Rookie honors by averaging nine points and eight rebounds. The next season he broke out averaging a 14-point/13-rebound double-double. Oak was no joke, and he was living up to his name by playing tough, hard-hitting, in-your-face basketball. In 1988, Oakley was traded to the Knickerbockers where he poured blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul into the franchise for ten years.
Unfortunately, most of us know this thrilling, yet disappointing tale of the Knicks 90s woes. In 1994 Oakley earned a spot on the All-Star team and NBA All-Defensive first team honors. Oakley was part of Pat Riley’s bully ball corps that included Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and Anthony Mason (RIP). Throughout the tragic finals series, he held steadfast by averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds per game. Although it ended in a two-part heartbreaker, Oakley’s output remained solid until he was traded for a young, budding Marcus Camby.
However, his consistency on the stat sheet is only a fraction of his legacy. Oakley’s refusal to back down, his inability to bitch up, and his insistence on always being “with the shits” when trouble turned up on the court made him a titan daring anyone to take a cheap shot at him.
One of his most memorable moments was his infamous fight with Charles Barkley. After a loose ball went awry for both Oakley and Barkley, the two ended up on the ground, but not for long. Watch the antecedents, the clash, and the aftermath in this video.
It’s argued that Oakley was going after the ball and made an honest foul, but what fans rave about is Oakley’s response to Barkley’s aggression afterwards. Backing down wasn’t anywhere in his mind. It’s understandable that over the course of the season tempers flare and peers become enemies.
That was a preseason game.
With the Bad Boy Pistons team, Dennis Rodman, and a plethora of other competent cutthroat adversaries in the league, Oak had no other choice, but to go toe-to-toe with any big man that would test him. He played against Karl Malone his entire career, which means he played through the Jordan retirement, twice. Oakley was never afraid to be in the mix; furthermore, according to legend, his bad boy reputation was more than just a bad boy reputation: He lived life ready to smack the taste out of a grown man’s mouth like it was the sustenance that fueled his heartbeat.
In an interview on Highly Questionable, former Knick Antonio Davis alleged that Oakley had a mean streak when he felt like he was crossed. He lists his off-court victims as Jeff McKinnis, Tyrone Hill, and long time rival Charles Barkley. Oakley really doesn’t like Barkley. He went as far as tweeting the following when he interpreted disrespect toward his hometown coming from the TNT analyst.
Oakley may not have been a first option when it came to scoring, but when it comes to being the rock on a playoff team Oak is one of the first in line to receive the goat emoji following his name. The unbridled, vocal support from fans, current NBA players, and retired players demonstrate the core values of respect and honor among professional basketball’s stakeholders. Golden State Warriors power forward and renowned ugly person Draymond Green weighed in on his “Uninterrupted” Dray Day podcast:
He’s a legend…Treat him as such.
— Ty Jordan, site writer