Originally Published: February 22, 2017 6:01 a.m.
The New York Knicks are the most valuable team in the NBA, worth $3.3 billion according to Forbes’ latest estimate. They’re also the most dysfunctional team in the league, if not all of professional sports.
Most dysfunctional is a difficult low bar to reach, considering that the competition includes MLB’s Miami Marlins and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. While other teams have given the Knicks a run for their dubious title over the years, New York has earned its reputation as the team at the bottom of the heap. The Knicks are a bumbling, incompetent franchise. They have gone nowhere for the better part of two decades – only one playoff series victory in 17 years – and are heading nowhere but down in the foreseeable future. The team lost 50 games last year and has a good chance of duplicating that inglorious record this year having lost 24 of their last 33 games prior to the All-Star Game.
But it’s not their losing ways that has earned the team the mantle of worst in sports. The Knicks are owned by Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) which is controlled by James Dolan. Therein lies the problem. If leadership begins at the top, then the Knicks are doomed. Dolan has made a cottage industry out of assuring that the team comes across as incompetent and inept. Since he was installed as Executive Chairman of MSG by his father, Charles, Dolan has hired the wrong people – Isiah Thomas and Phil Jackson come quickly to mind – and traded for and/or signed the wrong players – here’s looking at you, Allan Houston and Carmelo Anthony.
But hiring the wrong people isn’t Dolan’s only blemish. He hasn’t met a petty dispute he couldn’t embrace, whether with local politicians or players and owners around the NBA. Last week the man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth picked a public fight with one of his former players and team icon, Charles Oakley. Dolan had Oakley, who is beloved by Knicks’ fans, wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and forcibly evicted during a game by MSG security personnel. Not the best look on national TV or talk media.
To compound matters the team issued a statement accusing Oakley of acting in “a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner” and suggesting he get “help,” a not-so-veiled accusation that Oakley suffered from alcoholism. After players around the league and their union head Michele Roberts weighed in in support of Oakley, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stepped in to negotiate a truce.
But a zebra can’t change its stripes so don’t expect Dolan to refrain from being confrontational and explosive. And why should he? The combative Dolan has zero incentive to prioritize stability and success on the court over petty feuds. Fans fill the Garden for every game and millions more watch at home. The Knicks raked in $376 million in revenue last year according to Forbes, 13% more than the Lakers who were second in the league in both value at $3 billion and revenue at $333 million. And the team’s financial success will likely continue. The NBA is in the first year of a 9-year $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner, a three-fold increase over their last contract. For context, in the last year of the old deal the Knicks had a whopping $141 million operating profit.
If the Knicks’ financial success in the NBA wasn’t impressive enough, they rank as the sixth most valuable sports franchise in the world according to Forbes, behind the Dallas Cowboys ($4 billion), Real Madrid ($3.7 billion), FC Barcelona ($3.6 billion), the NY Yankees ($3.4 billion), Manchester United ($3.3 billion) and just ahead of the New England Patriots ($3.2 billion), although the Pats are likely to leapfrog up the list after the team’s fifth Super Bowl win earlier this month.
Once upon a time it may have been impossible to use “most dysfunctional” and “most valuable” to describe the same sports franchise. Not anymore.
Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.