For many years now, the New York Knicks have been a model of dysfunction and poor management. Most of it can be traced to decisions made by the owner, James Dolan. Despite his best efforts every year, he runs a free and public masterclass in how NOT to run your business.
Below is a small sample of the poor leadership of James Dolan.
Dolan makes poor hiring decisions
Even the best leaders make mistakes in evaluating talent. James Dolan makes mistakes and makes the same mistakes again.
In 2006, Isiah Thomas was hired as the Knicks Team President. This led to the league’s highest payroll at $123 million and an underwhelming record. In fact, Isiah Thomas so poorly managed the Knicks, the team was crippled for many years (video essay). On top of this, Thomas sexually assaulted a female team executive resulting in $11 million in damages.
In 2015, James Dolan re-hired Isiah Thomas to be the president of a WNBA team. For those of you who are not familiar with the acronym, the WNBA stands for Women’s National Basketball Association. Dolan hired someone who sexually assaulted a high ranking female team executive…to be president of a woman’s basketball team.
Dolan is a bad manager
Then Dolan announced that Thomas would coach the Knicks and, at the ensuing press conference, declared that he had just one season to demonstrate “significant progress” toward winning a championship. “If we can’t say that, then Isiah will not be here,” Dolan told the team’s beat writers on June 26 as a stunned Thomas looked on. “It is his ship to steer, to make go fast, to crash.”
Coaching has never been the most secure profession, but it’s unheard of for an owner to publicly place the head of his president and coach on the chopping block. “That was a pretty bizarre situation,” Miami Heat president and coach Pat Riley says of the Knicks’ coaching shuffle. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
-S.l. Price, “Lord Jim,” The Vault (Source)
If you hire someone…don’t publicly say they are on the chopping block before they even start working.
For a stretch of 3 years, the New York Knicks had a fantastic executive named Donnie Walsh. He somehow worked magic, freed up cap space, and brought both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to the Knicks.
When Walsh’s contract was up for extension, the two sides mysteriously could not come to an agreement. Walsh claimed, “It took me a lot of energy the last three years to do this, and I’m running out of energy.”
A year later, Walsh became President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers. The Knicks, due to the work of Walsh, improved their record for a short period. As of writing, their 2018-2019 record sits at 10-33. (The season before, their record was 29 and 53.) The public sentiment was that Dolan either did not want Walsh to get all the credit, or wanted to start…”leading” now that the ship seemed righted. Neither are traits of strong leadership. A strong leader can handle someone else getting credit and praise as well as trusting others to lead.
Dolan cannot take criticism at all
A quick list of instances in which James Dolan lashed out inappropriately in response to criticism:
- He fired Hall of Fame announcer Marv Albert for being critical of the Knicks.
- Dolan is feuding with Knicks legend, Charles Oakley for being critical of the Knicks. Dolan also alleged that Oakley was an alcoholic.
- He took the time to respond to a fan email criticizing him and the Knicks with an email of his own, suggesting the fan was an alcoholic. (Keep in mind, Dolan is a billionaire.)
- Years later, Dolan generously took the time to feud with another fan, calling the fan an “asshole” and alluded to alcohol problems, an apparent go-to insult.
It is very important for leaders to be able to take feedback and criticism. People may give it in harsh and unpleasant ways, but a good leader can evaluate if there’s substance behind the criticism and find ways to correct the issue. James Dolan doesn’t care about this because…
Dolan’s ego is more important than anything else
From Sport’s Illustrated 2007 piece by S.L. Price (quoted in The Guardian):
“Both current and former high-level employees from the Knicks, the Rangers, Madison Square Garden and MSG Network testify to Dolan’s need to constantly reassert his place at the top of the food chain…”
“They speak of a ‘reign of fear’ or ‘culture of paranoia’ in which people are more concerned with pleasing Dolan than doing an exemplary job.’”
When you work for the Knicks, you don’t actually work for the Knicks. You work for James Dolan who owns the Knicks, and James Dolan’s ego.
For these reasons, Dolan creates toxic work environments, makes poor management/business decisions, and generally does not have the disposition to run any kind of organization. Please keep in mind, this is still only a partial list of Dolan’s terrible behavior. I would say “attempt at leadership” but honestly, after reading about him, many of his behaviors seem rooted in a desire to flex power and control.
Also, if James Dolan ever reads this, no, I am not an alcoholic.