Sports

Why the New York Knicks Are in a Fight With Spike Lee

Spike Lee wearing a Knicks jersey, gesturing courtside at a game between the New York Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs in New York on Feb. 12, 2017.
Don’t count on seeing Spike Lee courtside at Madison Square Garden again this season.
Elsa/Getty Images

A controversy between the New York Knicks and their most famous fan has spiraled out of control. On Monday, video emerged on Twitter of Spike Lee arguing with Madison Square Garden officials. The footage was taken in the bowels of the stadium before New York’s game against the Houston Rockets, and Lee can be heard asking security staff to arrest him.

For a better understanding of the latest troubles in Knicksland, please consult this helpful guide.

What was the argument about?

Lee appeared on ESPN’s First Take Tuesday morning to provide his side of the story. He said that he used an employee entrance on 33rd Street—which he does for every game—and was stopped by a security guard in the elevator. Stadium officials told him that he had to leave and use a different entrance, but Lee believes they were not going to permit his return. In response to their demand, Lee says he put his hands behind his back and told them, “Arrest me like my brother Charles Oakley.”

What’s that about Charles Oakley?

Oakley, a Knicks legend, was ejected from his seat and arrested at Madison Square Garden in 2017. He claims team owner James Dolan, who was sitting four rows ahead of him, ordered his removal. Oakley sued Dolan and MSG, but the suit was dismissed last month by a federal judge who cited “a landlord’s right to remove a trespasser from its property.”

Yeesh. Why would Dolan do such a thing?

That’s kind of his move. When a season ticket holder emailed Dolan in 2015 to complain about the direction the team was heading, he replied, “start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don’t want you.” Last year, Dolan threatened to ban a fan from Madison Square Garden because he told him to sell the team.

Wow, seems like—

I’m not done. The owner reportedly ordered a young fan to be ejected from a game in November because he started a “fire Dolan” chant. Dolan also alerted his security detail to a teenager who was participating in a stadiumwide “sell the team” chant in January.

Oh, man. Was Lee ejected on Monday?

Nope. He made it to his usual courtside seat. An MSG spokesperson told reporters that it was a misunderstanding and that he had used the wrong entrance.

Ah, so this all sorted itself out?

Not at all. Recall that Lee went on First Take, ESPN’s daytime argument factory. It is not an arena for making amends. He dismissed the “Garden spin” and asserted that he’s used that entrance for 28 years—as recently as Wednesday, when he attended a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. He said they didn’t tell him about the new policy and believes he’s being “harassed by James Dolan,” though he doesn’t know why.

He asked Dolan at halftime why he was not notified about the new entrance rules. According to Lee, the Knicks owner replied, “Now you know.”

Shouldn’t Lee just be happy that he gets such good seats? As the team’s most famous celebrity fan, I’m sure he and the organization have a nice agreement about that.

According to Lee, he pays around $300,000 for his season tickets.

He pays $300,000. To see the Knicks?

Yes. And he’s been doing this since the 1990s.

The Knicks play the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Will Spike be there?

No. He told the First Take crew that he is “done” going to games this year. The Knicks have only had three winning seasons since 2000, but Lee remained a loyal fixture throughout. This is the ordeal that finally broke him.

Monday marked the first game under new Knicks general manager Leon Rose. Could the team use this opportunity to project a fresh start and let bygones be bygones?

They could! But they didn’t. On Tuesday, the Knicks released a statement accusing Lee of creating a “false controversy to perpetuate drama.”

In the biz, I think they call that “damage control.”

I don’t know which biz you are referring to, but this will certainly make things worse. You may notice that the team pointedly included a photo of Lee and Dolan, likely because Lee said on First Take that he did not shake Dolan’s hand. On Tuesday, Lee texted the New York Times’ Sopan Deb and said that the photo was a false flag.

Say, who won the game Monday?

The Knicks, shockingly. The Rockets are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, but New York beat them 125–123. It was one of their best performances of the season.

Why aren’t people talking about it?

Because the team started a feud with their most famous and loyal fan, remember?

Oh yeah. The Knicks!

The Knicks!

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