So you’ve got two guys you used to know from high school. You’re all grown up now, but you see each other on Facebook or whatever.
The first guy was your dude back in the day. He had a beard when you couldn’t even get peach fuzz. He stood up for you when people put old food in your locker. He helped introduce you to your first girlfriend. He was your rock, and even if he’s working some plumbing gig today and you guys don’t talk anymore, you still think of him fondly.
Then there’s this other guy. He put on a few since high school. He’s good at petty statuses and posting selfies from his grainy Android camera. He plays music in a weird band. He gets cold feet when all the poker chips are down. He got a cushy executive job at a middle-management company, but he’s sent it into ruin. For some reason, they still keep him around. You didn’t know this guy then, and you sure don’t want him close to you now.
Now, you’re put in a situation where there was a fracas, and you have to choose between these two guys. Truth is, you don’t have a whole lot of information to base your decision off of. Who do you go with?
Of course, you dummy, you go with Charles Oakley.
Taking a break from the weekly challenge of finding a power forward trade target, I want to chat about the Charles Oakley incident from Wednesday (if you want my thoughts on the man of the hour, I wrote about Serge Ibaka two weeks ago).
When the opposite side is James Dolan, who has crashed and burned one of the great franchises in professional sports, it’s hard not to pick Oakley’s story. We know this guy too, so we’re a little biased.
Oakley’s first stop after leaving New York in 1998 was north of the border. He helped instill a sense of toughness in those young Raptors teams, pushing them to playoff appearances in three straight seasons before winding down his career as a journeyman.
The Basketball Fit
Oakley’s physicality, his enforcer status (and decent jump shot), provided a prescription not unlike the one needed by today’s team. As the Raptors wallow defensively through the months of January and February, it’s become clear that the frontcourt needs a dose of Oak attitude. Jonas Valanciunas is still getting benched (sometimes deserved, others not), Lucas Nogueira has been up and down, Jared Sullinger is in need of some extended D-League action, and Jakob Poetl / Pascal Siakam are too young to provide any expectation. Oakley’s eight points and two blocks per game would be a nice boost.
The Emotional Fit
Oakley’s status is more enduring than his statistics, though. He protected Vince Carter and allowed the Raptors’ greatest player to become a true superstar. He glued the team together, just as he did in New York, and Chicago before that. There’s a reason Michael Jordan was upset by the Charles Oakley / Bill Cartwright swap that preceded their playoff years. In a day and age where the Pistons were group-tackling him in the paint, young Charles Oakley was a deterrent unlike any other.
Which brings us to today, and the scene that’s been the talk of the NBA. Oakley, surrounded by plainclothes NYPD officers and Madison Square Garden security, dragged off the floor and handcuffed. Arrested and released. The kind of scene the NBA has painstakingly tried to avoid since the Malice in the Palace. Oakley’s arrest is a distraction to the league’s product, and perfectly sums up the Knicks’ catastrophic ineptitude. Adding the latest reports, that Oakley could be banned for life from the Madison Square Garden, is incomprehensible to me.
For 15 years, we’ve all just begged the Knicks to be quietly bad. It’s never been enough for them to be in the league’s basement, they’ve had to do it kicking and screaming. It’s just a shame that a guy like Charles Oakley got roped into the sideshow. It’s easy to believe his side — not just because of our memory of Oakley, but because of the Knicks’ court record of utter chaos.