Ranking the most ridiculous New York Knicks PR statements over the past year

There is no harder job in sports than working public relations for the New York Knicks. Every day, those brave souls are tasked with defending the indefensible. While a normal team issues statements sparingly about transactions and practice schedules, James Dolan’s desperate need to have the last word has forced his staff to comment on things that a normal franchise wouldn’t touch with a 20-foot pole. On Tuesday, for instance, they were forced to issue a statement lambasting Spike Lee, their most famous fan, for daring to use the wrong entrance.

That was hardly a unique occurrence. Just about every new development for the crumbling Knicks franchise is followed by an utterly ridiculous statement attempting to justify the sort of behavior that has led to 50 years without a championship. So in light of the team’s response to Spike Lee’s confrontation with management, we’re going to rank every ridiculous statement issued by the team in the past 12 months. Amazingly, Lee didn’t land at No. 1. 

8. Dec. 8, 2019: Fizdale’s statement on the firing of Fizdale

The notion of a head coach issuing a statement following their own firing is hardly unheard of. While hardly the norm, some coaches see the benefit in publicly thanking a former employer in the interest of decorum as they search for a new job. That isn’t what happened to David Fizdale. 

On Dec. 6, the Knicks fired their second-year coach and issued one of the simplest statements in team history: “Today, head coach David Fizdale and assistant coach Keith Smart were relieved of their coaching duties. Assistant coach Mike Miller has been named interim head coach.” After that came a seven-line bio on Miller without another mention of Fizdale. No offers of gratitude for his year or so of service. No explanation for the decision. No direct quotes from anyone involved in the decision. Neither president of basketball operations Steve Mills nor general manager Scott Perry even made themselves available to the media in the immediate aftermath. One sentence and poof, the coach is gone. 

Naturally, neither fans nor media took kindly to that approach. Nor did the players. Mere hours before the firing was announced, Taj Gibson said that his coach “can’t keep taking bullets for us.” Knicks management failed to give Fizdale enough talent to win with, fired him for failing to win, and then refused to justify the decision. And so, days later, we have the gem presented above. 

In an apparent effort to save face, the Knicks issued a one-sentence thank you followed by three paragraphs from Fizdale, as if his willingness to speak blesses the decision to fire him for the front office’s sins. We know this is not the norm because the Knicks did not quote Jeff Hornacek after firing him. But Dolan’s PR paranoia has gone off of the deep end since then. This would top any list like this for a normal team, but for the Knicks? It’s just a more aggressive and ultimately failed attempt to control the narrative. 

7. March 2, 2020: 20 years of losing isn’t enough

In some form or another, every top Knicks executive of the past decade has asked for patience. Donnie Walsh punted away two years carving out cap space for free agents that didn’t come. Phil Jackson put the onus on Carmelo Anthony and essentially asked fans to wait for him to grow up. Mills used it to justify his own mistakes. Knicks fans have spent 20 years waiting. At this point, asking them to wait any longer is tantamount to telling them they’ll be waiting forever. 

The sad thing is that patience is what the Knicks need in a vacuum right now. Expectations for the loaded free-agency class of 2021 should be tempered. The goal should be to continue to build on the young talent in place and supplement it with more high draft picks. But nobody would vote for a politician unwilling to offer at least some amount of immediate change. Leon Rose opened his Knicks presidency by telling Knicks fans to brace for more of the same, kicking an already beaten fan base while it’s down. 

6. Feb. 4, 2020: Mills gets fired …. and promoted

The Steve Mills era began with him encroaching on a far more qualified candidate’s plans for the team. While David Griffin was negotiating a potential role with the Knicks, Mills signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a contract so awful he had to attach Kristaps Porzingis just to dump it. That contract turned Griffin off of the job, according to The Athletic’s Frank Isola, thus awarding the position to Mills. It’s only fitting that the end of his tenure opens the door for similar meddling. 

The ouster of Mills, Dolan’s well-known yes-man and perhaps the least-qualified top Knicks executive of the century, should have been a day of celebration for fans. Instead, it was one of trepidation. In a sense, it could even be viewed as a promotion, as the team revealed that Mills was expected to be named to the board that oversees all of Madison Square Garden’s sports assets, including the Knicks. Mills is a terminator. Dolan just can’t quit him. 

5. Feb. 11, 2020: Do not listen to the team employee who just spoke on TV

While his success in advertising is unquestionable, Steve Stoute has been involved with an NBA team for less than a month. How he managed to find his way onto the set of ESPN’s “First Take,” we may never know, but once there, he revealed that the Knicks planned to fire interim coach Mike Miller at the end of the season, among other things. 

The incredible thing about the statement that followed is that one of two things must have been true: 

  • The Knicks approved of Stoute’s interview and failed to adequately train him for it, leading to the almost immediate disavowal of its contents.
  • The Knicks didn’t approve of Stoute’s interview, and he did it anyway, suggesting that just about anyone with a Knicks email address can go on ESPN and fire off classified information about the team. 

Either outcome is a colossal organizational mess, and in the Knicks’ case, it hardly matters which is true. 

4. Feb. 6, 2020: ‘I am not selling’

James Dolan never needed to release a statement informing the public that he wouldn’t sell the Knicks. Banning any fan that suggests it sends that message loud and clear. The suggestion of such a public declaration is far more egotistical. Salvation isn’t coming. Anyone who remains on board this sinking ship must accept that Dolan is helming it. 

3. Nov. 25, 2019: Pants on fire

For clarification purposes, here is a list of other players that the Knicks did not offer contracts to in either the summer of 2018 or 2019: 

  • Jumpin’ Joe Fulks. 
  • Billy Hoyle.
  • Janet Reno. 
  • Any member of The Supremes. 
  • Bruce Banner. 
  • The Phillie Phanatic. 
  • Lrrr, ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8. 

Let’s say, for the moment, that the Knicks didn’t offer Richard Jefferson a contract, as he joked on a Nets broadcast for the YES Network. The fact that they felt the need to announce that to the world is just further proof of how unable this organization is to withstand criticism. Technically speaking, the Knicks can’t even prove that this is true. Offers do not need to be submitted to the league office. They are nebulous. And while Jefferson suggested that he was indeed joking, the funniest thing about this is that the 2018-19 Knicks could have done far worse than Jefferson as a veteran mentor for their young players. 

2. March 3, 2020: The Spike Lee handshake

I’d like to direct your attention to the following sentence from Rose’s statement upon being hired as president of the Knicks: “While I realize that there have been difficulties on the court, what has been remarkable to me is that your pride remains so strong, your loyalty undiminished.” Literally a day later, the most loyal Knicks fan on the face of the planet was reprimanded for using the same entrance to Madison Square Garden he’s been using for 30 years. 

It is unclear to this point whether Rose’s hiring prompted Tuesday’s confrontation between Spike Lee and Knicks security, but even if it didn’t, the timing is damning. Lee held nothing back in a series of text messages with The New York Times‘ Sopan Deb. 

“This press release, which is upsetting me, is an unmitigated, baldfaced lie,” Lee said. “Capital letters. On my late mother and my late brother’s grave, this is a lie. That they say that they had repeatedly asked me not to use the employee entrance. That is a lie.”

The truth at this point is irrelevant. Lee is the lone bright spot for a destitute franchise. Through two decades of losing, he has attended almost every home game. His approval rating among fans is as close to 100 percent as any human being can reasonably come. He is the embodiment of all of the virtues Rose himself extolled upon accepting his new job. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by accosting him over something as petty as an entrance. The Knicks should be doing everything in their power to retain fans like Lee. Instead, they push them away and act as if they never wanted them in the first place. 

1. June 30, 2019: Free agency is going according to plan

There are dozens of elements of a truly great Knicks press release, but easily the most important is the unnecessary revelation of underlying incompetence. When the Knicks failed to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, they leaked to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that they were uninterested in giving an injured Durant a max contract anyway. While this statement doesn’t say as much outright, it echoes the sentiment: we didn’t do what you wanted, but relax, everything is proceeding according to plan. 

Let’s pretend that’s true for a moment. If the Knicks truly were unwilling to give a 30-year-old two-time Finals MVP a max contract, that is worse than alternative of simply being unable to recruit him. The latter is the failed execution of a wise plan. The former is a plan so terrible its execution hardly matters. 

By far the likeliest motivation behind not only the press release, but the leak to Shelburne that preceded it, was an attempt to save face. That attempt just made the Knicks look worse, as all of these statements have. Embarrassing as the truth was, it was far more appealing than the alternative that the Knicks offered completely unprompted. The Knicks didn’t need to say anything. There were 28 other teams that failed to sign Durant and Irving who kept quiet about it. But the defining characteristic of the Dolan-era Knicks is a desperate need to have the last word, even if that word just makes things worse. 

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