Ex-Knicks star Oakley sues Dolan, MSG over removal from game

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former New York Knicks basketball star Charles Oakley has filed a lawsuit against team owner James Dolan, stemming from Oakley’s forcible, televised removal from a game at Madison Square Garden in February.

Retired basketball player Charles Oakley arrives on the red carpet for the film "The Carter Effect" at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), in Toronto, Canada, September 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The civil lawsuit seeking damages for defamation, battery, false imprisonment, and seven other claims deepens a long feud between Dolan and Oakley, a fan favorite who was a Knicks power forward from 1988 to 1998.

Oakley has been critical of Dolan and his leadership of the team, which has had four straight losing seasons.

Dolan is executive chairman of Madison Square Garden Co and MSG Networks Inc, which are also defendants in Oakley’s lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit and nothing more than another attempt by Mr. Oakley to garner attention,” Madison Square Garden Co said in a statement. “We will deal with this accordingly.”

Oakley’s case arose from the Feb. 8 ejection of the 19-year National Basketball Association veteran from his courtside seat at a Knicks game, after a run-in with security.

Manhattan prosecutors agreed last month to drop related misdemeanor assault and trespass charges against Oakley, who said he had done nothing wrong, if he stayed out of trouble for six months and agreed not to trespass at the Garden.

Oakley, 53, accused Dolan of treating him like a “common criminal” by ordering his removal from the game, and launching a “coordinated and defamatory” public campaign against him.

He said this included a tweet in which the Knicks said Oakley “behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner” and expressed hope he “gets some help soon,” intimating he was an alcoholic.

Dolan later told ESPN radio that Oakley “has a problem with anger” and “may have a problem with alcohol,” according to the complaint.

“By propagating these blatant lies about Mr. Oakley, Defendants Dolan and MSG have caused irreparable harm to his name and career,” in a “transparent attempt to denigrate his standing among Knicks fans,” the complaint said.

Oakley’s lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, said in a statement that Oakley sued “out of principle and his desire to hold Mr. Dolan accountable for his actions.”

Wigdor also represents more than 20 current and former Fox News employees suing that company over alleged bias and retaliation.

The Knicks had a reputation for toughness and grittiness during Oakley’s tenure, including in 1994, when they lost to the Houston Rockets in the NBA finals.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bill Trott