NEW YORK (AP) - Former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley sued the team’s owners Tuesday, saying he was defamed when they claimed he committed assault and was an alcoholic after his February arrest at a game.
The lawsuit details how Oakley was treated before and after he was forcefully removed from Madison Square Garden during the first quarter of a Feb. 8 Knicks’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. It seeks unspecified damages.
Oakley was a Knicks fan favorite from 1988 to 1998. He was accused of striking a security guard during the February fracas.
Last month, prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges after six months of good behavior.
Many of the lawsuit’s more venomous claims are directed at team owner James Dolan, who was near Oakley when the popular power forward was seen shoving security guards before they pulled him away from his seat.
The lawsuit says that long before the game, Dolan had “constantly disrespected” Oakley, refusing to make eye contact or shake his hand during meetings, denying him fan appreciation nights and making him pay for his own tickets to games.
The lawsuit blames Dolan for Oakley’s removal from the game, saying Oakley “was treated like a common criminal” after Dolan directed security to “forcibly remove Mr. Oakley from the Garden and publicly embarrass him on live television.”
Oakley asserts through the lawsuit that it was apparent Dolan had directed his ouster when a security guard loudly asked: “Why are you sitting so close to Mr. Dolan?”
Oakley told the guard he had done nothing wrong and was returning to his seat when two guards grabbed him and pushed him to the ground, demanding he leave the stadium, the lawsuit says.
“As if their public mistreatment of Mr. Oakley was not embarrassing and shameful enough, over the ensuing days defendants Dolan and (Madison Square Garden) launched a coordinated and defamatory public relations campaign against Mr. Oakley, baselessly accusing him of abusing fans and staff, acting inappropriately and struggling with alcoholism,” according to the lawsuit.
The Madison Square Garden Co. called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “nothing more than another attempt by Mr. Oakley to garner attention. We will deal with this accordingly.”
Oakley has suffered irreparably harm to his name and career and has been discriminated against “based on the false perception that he is an alcoholic, all in a transparent attempt to denigrate his standing among Knicks fans,” the lawsuit says.
“However, as he did throughout his playing career, Mr. Oakley has refused to walk to the bench in shame,” it adds, saying he was suing to set the record straight and hold the defendants responsible for “reprehensible conduct.”
The lawsuit surmises that Dolan’s treatment of Oakley might have stemmed from “resentment for Mr. Oakley’s passionate following among Knicks’ fans, anger that Mr. Oakley would not ‘kiss the ring’ of the heir to the Madison Square Garden empire or petty insecurities driven by his own personal demons.”
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