What could be worse than playing for the downtrodden New York Knicks, a 4-9 basketball squad that is stinking up the “world’s most famous arena.” Doing PR for the Knicks immediately comes to mind.
Paranoia, spying on reporters, cutting off access to journalists who are critical of the team (What good is there to say?) and the overriding fear that today is your last day on the job is standard operating procedure at the Knicks’ press shop.
The New York Observer (Dec. 3) has a boffo front page story called “Life in Knicks Hell” that smartly sums up conditions at Madison Square Garden.
PR staffers are reduced to “minders” who lurk whenever a reporter interviews a Knick player or executive. The PR guy furiously types into a Blackberry and emails a record of the proceeding to who knows where? A minder even recorded the conversion between Barry Watkins, senior VP-communications at MSG, and Observer writer John Koblin when they spoke.
The press room is a tiny place with cider-block walls and dim fluorescent lighting. The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro refers it as the “gulag.” ReporterFrank Isola, who has been covering the Knicks for the Daily News for a dozen years, was “cut off” (PR doesn’t return his calls, text messages, emails) after complaining about being tailed by security guards. He sticks it out of spite because he is tired of being screwed over by PR.
Watkins said PR polices come from top. That means Jimmy Dolan, chair of Madison Square Garden. Jimmy’s dad, Chuck, chairman of MSG parent Cablevision, needs to arrange a sit-down. Jimmy needs to be told that trashing and belittling reporters is not the ideal way to handle media relations, especially for a team that has done precious little for the last six years.
The Knicks were once a team of giants named Willis Reed, Clyde Fraser, Dollar Bill Bradley, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Dick Barnett, Red Holzman and Dave DeBusschere. They “owned” New York. One can’t imagine a “minder” listening in and reporting on conversations with any of those guys. Clyde would have put a quick end to that.
There is enough insanity surrounding today's Knicks. Sexual harrassment, fights between head coach Isiah Thomas (branded a "psycho" by a beat reporter) and "Starbury" Marbury—whose "dream" is not a title but to play in Italy when his contract expires—are just starters. [Note to Steph: Don't let the door hit you on the way out].
Jimmy got to ease up on the PR front. That could be the only good to come out of this sorry season.