James Dolan's Blues

His permanence, more than anything else, is what makes the Knicks owner such a bummer.
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See you at the crossroads, turd.

Image via MusicRemedy.com.

The most important thing to know about the New York Knicks is that everything you read or hear about them could very well be true. Or, actually, maybe not everything—they are not a title contender this year, for instance, and if you've somehow heard anyone say that or read it anywhere you should by all means feel free to disbelieve it. They are not in an especially good position to become one in the next few years, either, and if you'd seen that someplace that's another one to throw out. But all the other stuff is quite possibly true, with the more unflattering assertions generally the ones more likely to be so. This is, after all, an organization run as a paranoid and defiantly backwards hermit kingdom by one of the worst rich guys in New York City—which: think about that!—and which employed Isiah Thomas as a combination jester/vizier for the better part of a decade. Bearing all that in mind, you should by no means shrug off whatever you might hear something about a five-year offer to Tony Battie or a mysterious "Hippopotamus-Related, Various" line item on the team budget.

You've heard the more familiar of these Knicks-related assertions, probably. The aforementioned bit about how the team is ruled with cruel and unsteady arbitrariness by a dry-drunk creep who is ghoulish even by billionaire-scion standards, and who has an unfortunate thing for mock turtlenecks and a more unfortunate vanity blues band besides; that only the persistence of Incurable Human Cold Sore Donald Sterling has prevented Dolan from making the Knicks for being the NBA's most embarrassing franchise; that Dolan repeatedly overruled the well-respected Donnie Walsh, who dug the Knicks out of a decade-long hole and built a promising (and fun) young team before being bullied into trading that entire team for Carmelo Anthony and then promptly being aced out of his job at Dolan's bullying behest.

Bearing all that in mind, it's easy to believe that the Knicks and the chuckleheaded cynics behind them are, as was alleged on Monday by Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, not at all above withholding news of Jeremy Lin's torn meniscus until after the deadline for purchasing playoff tickets, in hopes of selling a few other speculative tickets. Speculative because it is by no means clear that the Knicks—currently without Amar'e Stoudemire and, if you're just joining us, Jeremy Lin—will be able to hold off the Milwaukee Bucks for the right to get walked by the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It gets worse, actually.

Not "worse" so much in terms of this season. Lin, the sensation turned best-of-crummy-backcourt-options-with-cultural-resonance is on the shelf for at least the next six weeks, Amar'e Stoudemire is out for slightly less long, and Carmelo Anthony will dominate the ball, be underrated in weird ways and maddening in obvious ones, and probably win and lose a few games more or less by himself. The team still has some weapons and a modicum of hope. They're not going anywhere, but weren't anyway. Anyway, it has been some time since the team's florid, stubborn mediocrity was the biggest bummer about being a Knicks fan.

That honor is reserved for the franchise's one true constant, which is Dolan, and which constant is not getting any less so. The Knicks' response to Isola's story is a reminder of what that constancy means, in practice. The response was a two-parter, both of which you can find here, at Can't Stop The Bleeding, and it was also a sort of beginner's guide to Dolanity. The first statement came from Cablevision, the universally loathed New York cable carrier that Dolan runs (his father, Charles, founded the company) and which he uses to advance his various concurrent disputes with greater New York's other hideous mogul types. Back in 2010, a spat between Cablevision and NewsCorp cost millions of subscribers in the New York area Fox, and thus the NFC and National League Championship Series; to be fair, they were also spared American Dad.

Anyway, the Cablevision statement on the Daily News story says in part that "the suggestion that the timing of Jeremy Lin's injury report is in any way connected to a longstanding Knicks playoff ticket deadline is a malicious attack on The Madison Square Garden Company." It goes on to say, at greater length, that the Daily News—and its own hideous mogul in chief, Mort Zuckerman, who is to Michael Bloomberg more or less what Stephen is to Alec Baldwin—has a longstanding vendetta against Dolan and the Knicks and also is just mad because it can't be down with Dolan and the Knicks. The last words of that statement are, "Today’s back page story is just another in a series of these defamatory extortions." The Madison Square Garden statement also denies the allegation, also goes in on Zuckerman, but ends with a note that the Knicks have sold out 61 straight games. The last words of it are not "/Drops The Mic directly onto loafer-ed foot and begins hopping around; peal of piercing feedback," but also more or less are. Also I should've mentioned that Dolan wrote and performs a song called "Daily News Blues" with his blues band, Wet Garbage In A Ridiculous Hat JD and the Straight Shot. So.

The thing that really links Sterling and Dolan, across a continent and their various industries—Sterling made his own money, sketchily, and made it in real estate; Dolan inherited his prize position in New York City's lucrative and notably less-than-free cable marketplace—is not merely that they are monstrously vain, loathsomely petty and childish and wholly unaccountable. Although all that is not nothing, and does indeed link them. But if each reflects the fine-grain aesthetics of his respective city's rotten elites, the more important and more vexing thing—the most actually legitimately saddening thing, if it hits you right—about both is how thoroughly neither is going anywhere, or going to change, or going to have to change. They inhabit their respective decadence and entitlement in different ways—Sterling's crassness is exuberant in its odiousness, Dolan's is paranoiacally inward and embattled. If each presents a baroque manifestation of the exotic spiritual atrophy that comes with unaccountable wealth, they also finally represent mostly their own sour selves—not everyone with this sort of money is this profoundly poor in the ways that Sterling and Dolan are so broke and broken.

Which is not to say that the pair, and Dolan in particular, do not exemplify a deeper and more specific rot. In Los Angeles and New York as elsewhere, economic elites have lately ceased even acting as if they had anything but their own interests in mind when making their periodic demands upon the rest of us, proclaiming their victimhood all the while. It's easy enough to pin the ways in which the discourse has gone curdled and cruel to the broader civic helplessness made explicit by the new, frank brutality of our elites. For all the talk of what elites do to our culture and economy, both Sterling and Dolan bear out the terrible damage that elites also do to themselves. As hapless, witless and distant as any inbred end-stage Hapsburg princeling, giddy with the romance of his own imagined persecution, Dolan especially is a study in collapse, intellectual and moral and spiritual. A very special and vexingly permanent sort of collapse, this one, but a collapse all the same: these vast, gauche, high-gated mansions are so unclean as to be uninhabitable, and their inhabitants have made them so.

Jeremy Lin, hilariously and predictably, remained very much Jeremy Lin throughout this recent bit, tweeting out "Praise God" messages from his hospital bed and generally continuing to seem like someone who would never otherwise be in the middle of something like this. And Lin could, if he wanted, extricate himself from the middle of it after the season, as a free agent. Knicks fans, of course, can't do that. If they stick with their team, and if David Stern sticks with his policy of Olympian disengagement and brand-discipline, Dolan is what they're stuck with, and broadly what all of us are stuck with. And yet somehow Dolan is the one who feels entitled to sing the blues. It would be hard to believe, if it weren't also so easy.


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