Charles Oakley has been a beloved forward and a banned fan at Madison Square Garden.
But before Oakley, the former NBA enforcer and rebounding machine with the New York Knicks, can reconcile with his former team and return to the arena, he’s trying to beat the rap stemming from the altercation that led to his ejection and arrest in February at the Garden.
Oakley told The Associated Press he had no regrets over his behavior that night that led him getting handcuffed near an arena exit as he waited for police to arrive.
“I would have done everything just the same way,” Oakley said by phone. “I didn’t do nothing. I was only in the arena five minutes. I didn’t know you could get in that much trouble in five minutes. I’d take my chances and do the same thing again.”
Oakley was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of criminal trespass. He is accused of striking one security guard in the face with a closed fist, and when two other people tried to intervene, both were pushed and received cuts.
He is due in court Tuesday.
Oakley was set to travel to Chicago and attend Sunday’s service for former Bulls executive Jerry Krause and return to New York on Monday.
The 53-year-old Oakley played for the Knicks from 1988-98, helping them reach the NBA Finals, but has a splintered relationship with the team because of his criticism of owner James Dolan.
Dolan lifted Oakley’s ban from MSG shortly after meeting with Oakley and NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Oakley, known as candid, unfiltered and Michael Jordan’s de facto bodyguard, said nothing was really settled in the meeting.
So the looming question remains: What will it take to get Oakley back at MSG for a Knicks game?
“That’s the million dollar question. I don’t know,” Oakley said. “Right now, we’re trying to get closure. Why was there a ban? Why do I have three assault cases? I want to get all that settled. That’s the most important thing right now. It’s not about the ban or going to the Garden. It’s about going to the next step.”
Oakley said he was still unsure why the fracas went down at MSG. Oakley maintains he did nothing wrong before arena security approached him just a few rows behind Dolan. Oakley was no longer comped tickets or invited to official team functions, though he attended a few times a year when he bought his own tickets. He was there only a matter of minutes before the altercation that included him hitting one security guard in the face and shoving at least one other before he was dragged away and handcuffed.
“I hope we can come to an understanding, and get to the point of, `why?”‘ Oakley said.
Dolan later suggested on ESPN New York that the former player “has a problem with anger. He’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol. We don’t know.”
Oakley denied having anger or substance abuse issues.
“I’ve shown none of that stuff he’s talked about,” he said. “There’s nothing that can tell him I have any of the things that he’s talking about in my life. He’s said this three or four times to different people. It’s his way of trying to throw people under the bus.”
NBA stars and fans publicly supported the former tough guy enforcer, who instigated a few feuds and flagrant fouls in his prime. Knicks fans chanted “Free Charles Oakley!” Cavaliers star LeBron James quipped, “Charles Oakley for president.”
“Nobody had to go to bat for me. You think of all the people who went to bat for me, they know I’m a true gentleman guy at all times,” he said.
Oakley would rather stir the pot in the kitchen; his cooking has earned him a spot on Food Network’s “Chopped Tournament of Stars” and he said there are plans to soon release his own cookbook.
His specialty includes a sea bass with pineapple, asparagus, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
“I just want to get in the kitchen and do your favorite meal,” he said.
Oakley also wants to launch a clothing line next year, though he’s concerned his brush with notoriety could shut some doors in corporate America.
“It’s definitely going to punish me with some of the things I’ll probably try and do in the future,” Oakley said. “Some people don’t believe in luggage. They don’t like when there are things about you that are out there.”
Oakley has refused to keep a low profile since the MSG dustup. He mixed it up with another former bad boy, Dennis Rodman , over issues of rest; expressed his disappointment that former teammate Patrick Ewing failed to come to his defense (On Georgetown’s new coach: “Good luck to him. We’ll see how the ball bounces”) and signed on for a role as player/coach in the debut of the BIG 3 3-on-3 league backed by rapper Ice Cube.
He believed the same hard-nosed approached that served him well over a 19-year playing career, which included two stints with the Chicago Bulls, will serve him well in court.
“I’m not nervous. I believe in myself,” he said. “They said this, they said that. But 20,000 people were at the game. Millions of people saw what happened. There’s no reason for me to be nervous. If I’m wrong, I’ll take my punishment.”