To say that Charles Oakley doesn’t mince words is a dramatic understatement, especially when you consider that he’s one of a very select few with the cache to bust Michael Jordan‘s chops.
“We have a lot of heated conversations about the league,” said Oakley with a hint of mischief about his longtime friend and current boss with the Bobcats. “About how he was the only guy who could travel 95 percent of the time and get seven fouls every game.”
Oak made an appearance at K1X’s new flagship store in New York City on Saturday to celebrate the rollout of their Charles Oakley Collection, and before signing autographs for fans, he held court with the media on a variety of topics, pulling very few punches as usual.
For one, if real recognize real, the Knicks of current vintage don’t look all that familiar to Oak.
“They’ve got hype,” said Oakley. “Hype don’t mean nothing.”
There’s no doubt Oakley would have liked to maintain some sort of relationship with a franchise he loved to represent as a player. He even feels he might have been able to convince LeBron James to come to New York, if he’d been asked to help.
But despite his vested interest, his opinions of the modern-day Knicks â€“ he finds them lacking in half-court offense and functional size â€“ are measured and objective, and mirror the concerns of more than a few fans about the direction of the team.
Can Mike D’Antoni‘s uptempo methods work in New York?
“I don’t think so, but that’s his coaching style. I mean, they knew when they signed him. When you go buy a Bentley, you know it’s not a Volkswagen.”
What about Amar’e?
“The more years he plays in the East, the more his body is going to be damaged, because he’s got to take a beating now.”
Oakley saved by far his harshest assessment for Isiah Thomas, whose specter still hovers over the franchise long after he was supposedly deposed.
“I don’t even understand how he got a job with management,” said Oakley. “He had nothing to do with the Knicks. Then he talked bad about the Knicks. If I see him, he’d better turn around and walk the other way.”
What would it take for a Knicks player to succeed in New York today?
“You’ve got to be humble,” said Oakley. “I see a lot of guys doing a lot of talk shows… I think in New York, you’ve got to get your job done, or do another job.
“I think the fans, they see you taking it lackadaisical like you accomplished something just coming here, they’re not going to give you respect. You’ve got to grind, show you’re here to do your work.”
New York fans have always identified with Oakley, who eternally played like he was on a 10-day contract, taking out half the front row with nightly breakneck dives into the stands â€“ and the occasional errant behind-the-back pass. Plus, fans loved that Oakley appeared to be the sartorial and conversational heir to Walt Frazier, replete with bright purple suits and wonderfully mixed metaphors.
Most of all, New York fans loved that when it came down to it, nobody messed with Oak.
“I haven’t been in the ring with Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali or anything like that,” said Oakley with a smile. “I respect those guys for the job they did in a boxing ring, but the title of being toughest on a basketball court? Ya’ll want to give it to me? I’ll take it.”
Something of a renaissance man, Oakley has continued to explore new ways to connect with his fans both past and present, regularly appearing on an Internet radio show. He also routinely takes part in late-night Twitter debates, which expand well past basketball to topics like C.C. Sabathia‘s opt-out clause and a potential Manny Pacquiao–Floyd Mayweather fight.
Meanwhile, Oakley has found a definitive niche as an assistant coach.
“I like coaching, man,” said Oakley. “When you played, and you understand the defense and present yourself, it’s really easy. I mean, you’re the captain of the plane; you’re not going to be in the cockpit if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Besides his work with the Bobcats, Oakley holds a variety of business interests, including a successful chain of car washes and a Miami steakhouse that has become a hot spot. He’s also trying to find a network for what would unquestionably be the greatest cooking show of all time.
And on Saturday, it was perfectly evident that Oak was proud of his K1X clothing line, which more than does justice to a walking embodiment of the halcyon days when New York fell in love with a Knicks team with collars as blue as their uniforms.
“(K1X was) telling me about what they thought about me in New York, and really pushed the (clothing) line, and that it could be something special,” said Oakley. “And I was like… ‘Wow.’ I didn’t know that I had that many people behind me that I could feel so special. I could be a brand.
“I hope we can just keep growing, add on every year… make it special.”
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