By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
This week the NBA’s unique brand of New York-based drama once again shamed anything one could find on Broadway, as well as any and everyone who still bothers to attend Knicks games.
Chief among the Knicks loyalists (at least before Monday night) was award-winning film director and do-or-die New Yorker Spike Lee, but even he has his limits and the organization he has shown such devotion to put a full-court press on Lee via Knicks security over his entrance into the stadium and a reported violation of new stadium policy requiring “VIP” game attendees to arrive in the stadium via a new entrance instead of a stadium employee entrance that Lee has been accustomed to using.
Many can argue that this isn’t a big deal since he was able to still attend Monday’s game and was not forced out, but the fallout between Lee and the Knicks’ shot-callers highlights deeper issues that are plaguing two of the NBA’s highest profile franchises — the Knicks as well as the Chicago Bulls.
Some 25 years ago the lead basketball representatives of the so-called “first” and “second” cities were duking it out for Eastern Conference supremacy. Today the closest thing to a fight each franchise shows is from their long-suffering fans towards two inept organizations who have maintained horrible track records for at least the last 20 years with neither showing signs of turnaround success to come anytime soon.
An issue like that which happened to Lee becomes a national controversy almost strictly because it happened in New York and involved the Knicks. The Knicks could have had a recent history rivaling, say the Spurs or the Heat or the Warriors, and that would have been the case. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, they have a long history of feeling disrespected by owner James Dolan and his flunkies and they have had to sit and watch their heroes be disrespected as well.
In 2017, former Knick Charles Oakley — as well loved as any Knick from the team’s last heyday in the early to mid-1990s — famously got into a heated discussion with owner Dolan that led to Oakley being confronted by security and forcibly removed from court-side at Madison Square Garden despite not getting a legitimate answer from security regarding why he was being asked to disperse after purchasing his own ticket. After shoving members of the security team in the scuffle, Oakley was charged with multiple counts of assault, of which he was cleared in early 2018.
In Chicago, the drama hasn’t quite matched what the Knicks have offered but that may only be because of the names involved in the disrespect. The Bulls have shown that they don’t have tolerance for dissonance within its arena as well, regardless of how understated or even clever it may be.
Jerry Spainer has always been a Bulls supporter, having come of age in the Chicago area during the the Jordan era where his beloved franchise dominated the 90s with six championships in eight years. In the years since, Spainer has made a way for himself in the auto dealership industry and has had enough success to afford 100-level tickets each time he attends the United Center, something that once was among the most sought-after commodities in Chicago sports.
Today, the value of such Bulls tickets couldn’t be lower, even if the prices themselves haven’t dipped. The franchise is firmly gripped in the Gar Forman/John Paxson era, a wholly disappointing decade and a half run that has featured several rebuilds, coaching hires that seem to get worst with each chance and alienated star players and fans, whose shared bad vibes have seemed to radiate throughout the NBA signalling that Chicago can only be enjoyed as a basketball destination today when the whole league descends on it as was done at the recent All-Star Break.
Even then, the #firegarpax movement seemed to overtake any possible positive messaging that the Bulls would rather have projected during their weekend in the spotlight.
During the All-Star Weekend it wouldn’t have been hard to spot Spanier at the UC or throughout the city, in public nowadays he just about exclusively rocks custom jerseys with the number 86 paired with Garpax on it (86 being slang meaning “to get rid of”). Spanier started his own sub-movement of the #firegarpax movement, the #86garpax movement by bringing a Windy City Bulls jersey rigged that way to the Pelicans-Bulls game in Chicago just prior to the All-Star break.
Waiting until the fourth quarter to reveal the jersey amidst another disappointing Bulls effort, Spanier and his girlfriend were immediately asked by security to be removed from their courtside seats. Spanier said no reason was given for the dismissal at the moment and none has been given since.
“When security asked me to leave, they gave me no reason. They just said I had to go,” Spainer told WARR Media. “I go to a lot of Bulls games. I like to sit on the floor. I sit in the same seats every game. I’m not a season ticket holder, but I pay a lot of money for those tickets. I brought a Zion Bulls jersey before and nothing happened, so I was surprised when they asked me to leave.”
Spainer said there are factors that could’ve played a role as to why the incident did not receive a lot of national attention, though it has received a healthy amount in Chicago. He believes that if the incident happened in a bigger market like New York, media representatives would’ve covered it on a higher scale.
“The incident happened around All-Star weekend,” Spainer said. “It was mentioned on The Jump and The Ringer but it was more of a subject than what they were making it out to be. If it happened in New York they would be all over it.”
Although the video of the incident did not go quite national, Spainer has sparked something within a fair amount of Bulls Nation and has helped embolden the fanbase to not be shy about calling out their struggling front office management — the rest of the league found that out during All-Star weekend and in response NBA analysts and former NBA players didn’t spare the rod when expressing their frustrations regarding the Bulls, often times harshly criticized management on live television platforms. On Twitter the #FireGarPax term stayed at or near the top of the trending topics list throughout the weekend.
Regardless of the varying fame and reputations of Lee, Oakley and Spanier, each established themselves as devout supporters of their teams as well as honest, ticket-paying customers. Each man deserves the highest treatment and respect from the owners of the Knicks and Bulls respectively, each man is well within their rights to loudly complain about the lack of success their favorite teams have had as of late while pointing to the obvious reasons why that success has been elusive.
Dissatisfied NBA fans aren’t going anywhere in New York and Chicago, except to the stadium in lesser numbers maybe.
The way these franchises are being ran has to change, the fans are clearly fed up with what they are seeing. The only thing that isn’t clear is whether or not these rich franchises care to be responsive or responsible to the people who made them worth anything in the first place.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media