Matthews: Can Anyone Really be Surprised When James Dolan Plays The Fool?

  Imagine, for a moment, that the Yankees decided to bar Paul O’Neill from Yankee Stadium for life. Or the Jets doing the same to say, Matt Snell. For the Mets, it could be Ray Knight. For the Rangers, Adam Graves. For the Giants, let’s say Phil McConkey.

  You get the idea. Perhaps not the key player on a championship team, not a Derek Jeter or a Joe Namath or a Mike Piazza, a Mark Messier or a Phil Simms. But an indispensable part of the team just the same.

  Now imagine the outcry if what happened at Madison Square Garden between James Dolan and Charles Oakley had happened in any other stadium or arena in the tri-state area. The sense of outrage and disbelief would have been incalculable.

 But since it happened at the Garden, and was initiated by Dolan, by far the worst owner of any professional sports team in America – which is quite a statement in an industry that includes Jeffrey Loria, Dan Snyder and until fairly recently, Donald Sterling – five days later, it rates little more than a shrug of the shoulders.

 After all, what else did you expect? Since Little Jimmy was given the keys to the Garden in 1999 by his dad Charles, who was terrified of allowing his wayward son to stick his fingers into Cablevision, the real family business, the building and the franchise have been in a death spiral from which it appears there will be no pulling out of for as long as he remains in control.

 Because it stands to reason that if you were an idiot 17 years ago the odds are you will remain an idiot tomorrow, and for many tomorrows after that. As the great Cus D’Amato used to say, “A sucker born round don’t die square.’’

 In other words, most people remain what they’ve always been, be it classy, crude, competent or brain-dead, for the length of their lives. And James Dolan has shown no inclination or ability to change his stripes.

 So if you are a Knicks fan, I feel for you. Things are not going to get better, not as long as James Dolan is at the helm. He is not going to suddenly do the right thing, or make a wise decision, or develop class, compassion and empathy, except maybe by the most capricious of accidents.

 And for the past 17 years, those type of accidents seem to have been outlawed at Madison Square Garden.

 So don’t expect Phil Jackson to suddenly begin working the “magic’’ that earned him those 11 championship rings, although I suggest the help of players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe and Shaq had a lot to do with it.

 And don’t expect Jeff Hornacek to suddenly come up with the right words to motivate his apathetic roster, or for Carmelo Anthony to suddenly morph into the quintessential team, and triangle, player.

 We all know a fish rots from the head down and James Dolan is the head of this rotting fish.

 And as long as he remains the guy making the decisions, nothing will improve at Madison Square Garden.

 The decision to banish Charles Oakley from the Garden for, essentially, the crime of levelling legitimate criticism at a failed and vindictive owner is just the latest in a series of boneheaded moves made by a man whose only accomplishment in life was having the good fortune to be the son of a rich man who needed to give him something to do.

 If it were any other organization, that move would have resulted in mass defections by the fan base – – how many Yankee fans would continue going to the games if Hal Steinbrenner had banished O’Neill? How many Mets fans would go to Citi if Jeff Wilpon had ostracized Knight?

 And yet, in the two games since Dolan had Oakley dragged out of the arena he had spilled his blood in, night after night, the Knicks have played to capacity crowds at Madison Square Garden. They came Friday night after Dolan had despicably asserted, with no evidence, that Oakley had a drinking problem – a charge he has leveled at his critics before, as I wrote on Friday – and they came on Sunday to witness Dolan’s hypocritical and transparent public embrace of Latrell Sprewell as a sop to the suckers in the seats.

 Perhaps Knicks fans really don’t care about what an incompetent and venal fool James Dolan is, or don’t  have quite the allegiance to Charles Oakley that they claim to.

I’d prefer to believe that after 17 years of this, what happened on Wednesday came as no surprise to anyone in the Garden. Business as usual from a man who has made bad business his trademark.

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