By John Schmeelk
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Knicks owner James Dolan decided to grace the unwashed masses with his presence on Tuesday after seven years of silence, and when he finally did, a very surprising thing happened: People liked what they saw and heard.
It should be a lesson to Dolan that he helps himself much more than he hurts himself whenever he speaks to the media.
Was he perfect? Of course not. He is not a great public speaker, so there was plenty of hesitation and “uhhs” between his words, but none of that matters when compared to the words that came out of his mouth.
A lot of what he said actually made sense. His explanation of his hesitation to speak to the media (along with the silence of Steve Mills) was that there was nothing to say back in January when the tea, was struggling since they couldn’t comment on the Phil Jackson negotiations. To not have the general manager at least speak after the trade deadline was a mistake, since he easily could have conducted an interview without mentioning Jackson, but at least there was some logic to it.
Dolan also added that he feels that having an owner and GM talk too much during the season can undermine the head coach. That’s also true, but no one is asking for that. No one wants a Dolan postgame presser after every game.
Giants owner John Mara is beloved by his fan base and is very respected by the media, yet he rarely addresses his team publicly. Usually he will speak twice a year, once before the season and once again after the season concludes. He’ll also say a few words when a major change is made at general manager or head coach, since those are the type of organization-altering decisions that the fan base should hear from their owner about.
That is all Knicks fans are looking for from Dolan. Fans do have a right to hear answers from their team’s owner when two general managers were fired (Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald) without obvious cause. Fans are customers, and they deserve that type of information. It would not be too hard, nor asking too much, for Dolan to take questions a couple of times a year. Speaking before and after the season when nothing is happening could not be considered a distraction.
What Dolan and Madison Square Garden has to realize is that their silence invites some of the more absurd stories and conspiracy theories that sprout in the media and within the fan base. All the rumors about the CAA running the Garden from behind the scenes could have been deflated or partially discredited with a few words from ownership.
Words from Dolan after Grunwald’s dismissal would have helped a lot in explaining a baffling move, and stopped some of the hypothetical theorizing that takes place by the fans. All of the things the Garden hates so much would actually occur less if Dolan addressed more issues openly and publicly.
Even when he spoke on Tuesday, many things were left unsaid. He refused to get into his parting ways with Walsh and Grunwald, calling both his friends. It was obvious by the way he spoke about Walsh that there was some kind of incident that pushed the two apart once Walsh was running the team for a couple of years.
With Grunwald, he was slightly less vague, only saying that he was not on board with some of the things the Garden wanted to do in terms of player development. They weren’t good answers, but even those vague statements were better than the absolute silence that followed their departures. It was SOMETHING. It gives Knicks fans a kernel and at least the illusion of some degree of honesty and openness.
One interesting line of questioning that was never explored in any of his interviews on Tuesday was why Dolan decided he had to step in and start influencing basketball decisions when Walsh was the general manager. Dolan said himself that he is not a basketball expert and was out of his comfort zone making basketball moves. He said he never wanted to be a part of it.
Why then, did he insist on doing exactly that? That is one question that would be fascinating to hear the answer to if Dolan decided to provide one. Was it Carmelo Anthony-related? Mike D’Antoni related? Something else? Those types of questions left unanswered are what lead to so much of the speculation about internal power struggles at the Garden that Dolan hates to hear about.
Many owners and general managers will often decline to go into details about negotiations or other issues, and the media respects that silence as long as the main characters embroiled in the situation are willing to subject themselves to questions. Simply declining to answer certain questions or giving a “no comment” is just fine.
There is also the art of answering a question without really giving a real answer. Politicians do it all the time. Sports executives and coaches do it all the time. They give absolutely nothing away but still show the fan base they care by stepping in front of a microphone. It’s the image as much as it is the substance.
That simple act would do wonders for Dolan’s reputation. He has the opportunity here to turn things around for himself the same way George Steinbrenner did. If he really steps away from basketball decisions and lets Jackson run this team the way he wants, he could become an owner who New Yorkers like. If he keeps the curtain pulled back a little bit and gives his fans some look at how the Knicks are run, it would help more.
If he treats the media as the gateway to the fans, which they are, the perception would become more positive. Everyone already knows money is no issue, something that New Yorkers love to hear considering the prices they have to pay to get into a Knicks game. New Yorkers want their teams to spend. Dolan already does that.
The opportunity is there. Dolan only needs to reach out and grab it to make it happen. He has never been wise enough to do so before. We’ll see if it is any different this time. I wouldn’t bet on it.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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