Spike Lee Vs James Dolan: Rumble In The Garden

Despite the boxing allusions in the title, Tuesday saw Spike Lee and James Dolan go head to head during a Knicks game over an elevator.

Spike Lee in argument with the Madison Square Garden security staff. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Spike Lee, writer-director of films ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘BlackKklansmen’, has entered a feud with the New York Knicks owner James Dolan.

Lee, a Knicks supporter for nearly 30 years now, has renounced the basketball team after an incident at the recent match between the Knicks and the Houston Rockets.

According to Lee, he entered Madison Square Garden through the employees’ entrance on 33rd Street, an entrance the Oscar-winner has used for decades. However, after his ticket had been scanned, security turned Lee away and requested that he use the entrance for celebrities two blocks away.

Lee, concerned that his already scanned ticket would prevent him from entering the stadium, argued with security and cited his continued use of the employee elevator as recently as Wednesday, less than a week before the game, when Lee attended a performance of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Lee even challenged the stadium’s security to, “arrest me like my brother Charles Oakley.” Oakley, a former Knicks player, was ejected and arrested after a game in 2017 after an argument with Dolan turned into shoving and shouting.

At the game’s halftime, Lee was approached by Dolan. The Knicks stated that during this talk, Lee and Dolan reconciled over the incident, a statement that Lee has rejected as false.

In a phone call with The New York Times NBA columnist Sopan Deb, Lee recounted the discussion with Dolan.

“Mr. Dolan comes to my seat and says, ‘We need to talk.’ And I said, ‘Talk about what?’ ‘We need to talk.’ I said, ‘Mr. Dolan, no one told me. I’ve not been informed my texts, emails, phone calls that there’s a new policy on using the employee entrance. No one told me.’… Then he says, very rudely, ‘Now you know.’”

Part of the Knick’s evidence for Lee and Dolan’s reconciliation is a handshake between the two, which Lee denied, “I did not shake his hand. That’s a lie.” However, when the Knick’s published a photo of Dolan and Lee shaking hands, the latter amended his statement in a text with Deb.

“I stand corrected. Do not remember shaking Dolan’s hand. My head was spinning. However, this picture looks like a set-up. Notice the angle. You can see the 30 second clock which atop the backboard. It was taken from the roof of The Garden, by a Garden photographer. This picture was planned. It was put in motion that Dolan come to seat and speak with me at the half.”

Lee has, in the past, been infamous for his temper. In 2005, Lee answered a question by CNN about the government potentially ignoring the suffering of African American’s after Hurricane Katrina, saying, “I don’t put anything past the United States government. I don’t find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.”

In 2008, Lee and director Clint Eastwood got into an argument about Eastwood’s lack of representation of black Marines in Eastwood’s ‘Flags of Our Father’s’. Eastwood dismissed Lee’s accusations, citing the segregation of the army during World War II and that Eastwood’s film follows the Marines who raised the US flag over Mount Suribachi, a group with no black members.

In 2012, Lee retweeted a supposed address for the shooter of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black student by a neighbourhood watch coordinator. The address was not the shooter’s and rather an innocent couple who had to move to a hotel and were receiving death threats. Lee apologised and compensated the couple.

Concerning the incident at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks released this statement.

“The idea that Spike Lee is a victim because we have repeatedly asked him to not use our employee entrance and instead use a dedicated VIP entrance – which is used by every other celebrity who enters The Garden – is laughable. It’s disappointing that Spike would create this false controversy to perpetuate drama. He is welcome to come to The Garden anytime via the VIP or general entrance; just not through our employee entrance, which is what he and Jim [Dolan] agreed to last night when they shook hands.”

Lee responded to this statement by criticizing Dolan and the Knick’s, “What’s laughable is how the Knicks are the laughingstock of the league in sports. That’s what’s fucking laughable.”

James Dolan court side at The Garden. Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports.

Lee accuses Dolan for creating this controversy, “This is – what’s transpiring – only one way it’s happening is because of James Dolan.” Lee also cited an incident about a month prior where he attempted to leave The Garden through a ramp in the back of the stadium.

“I entered for the last 28 years through the employee entrance. I exited the last 28 years-plus through a ramp in the back. And a month ago, they said, I was trying to leave the game and I don’t know what game [it was] – the game Howard Stern was at – because I saw him and his lady friend leave before me… I try to leave and they say you can’t go this way. I say, ‘Why?’ ‘I can’t tell you but you can’t go this way anymore.’”

Between the handshake photo and the exit incident a month prior, Lee is convinced Dolan is to blame. Dolan has been criticized in the past for his behaviour towards fans like Lee. In 2015, Dolan received an email from a Knick’s fan denouncing his management of the team. Dolan’s reply follows below, grammar mistakes and all:

“Mr Bierman

You are a sad person. Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am.just guessing but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing. In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around. In the mean while start rooting.for the Nets because the Knicks dont want you.


James Dolan”

Whether Dolan is really out to alienate Lee from coming court side to Knick’s games or Lee is simply exaggerating a rather meaningless bureaucratic issue is unclear. Lee has made it known, however, that he won’t be attending anymore Knick games for a while.

“I’m not coming back this year. I gave my tickets away… I’m coming back next year. I’ll be at the draft.”

The longtime fan that Lee is, an issue about where to enter the stadium hasn’t affected his love of the Knicks. But it has proved to be his breaking point when dealing with Dolan.

“I know this is coming from James Dolan. He runs The Garden. I’ve been coming here for three decades.  Those ushers, security guards are my friends. They saw my children grow up… I don’t want them to get fired because he sees me speaking to these employees. People walk on eggshells at The Garden. You can get fired on a moment’s notice. I don’t want nobody to get fired. And I want to state that this has nothing to do with the players. This is me and Dolan.”

To hear it from Lee, the 20 minute video below has Lee explain his situation on the Michael Kay Show.

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