Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - James Dolan has a certain way about him that causes discomfort on massive levels.
His reply to a letter from a 73-year-old New York Knicks fan named Irvin Bierman created a ruckus. It was a self-inflicted ruckus that embarrassed himself and the NBA, which, through the toothless and far too jocular response of commissioner Adam Silver, also became a loser in this fiasco.
As for the offended, that list includes Bierman, alcoholics and New Yorkers.
Bierman started this affair with an admittedly strong-worded letter questioning Dolan's tenure as Knicks owner. Bierman used words like "embarrassed" and "stupid" about Dolan.
Then, Dolan provided a response that was not proportional in what he got in his inbox. It was the equivalent of air strikes after a joke about one's sister.
Here is Dolan's response. People who care about grammar and spelling, you've been warned.
"Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am.just guessing but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess," Dolan wrote. "What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing. In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around. In the mean while start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks dont want you. Respectfully James Dolan."
There is so much hatred in that response it's hard to digest it all.
First, it probably wasn't wise to respond at all. There was nothing to be gained unless Dolan's e-mail was contrite. This was not that and it was offensive.
Accusing Bierman of being an alcoholic is not a joke and shouldn't be taken lightly. Alcoholism is a disease and a serious one that impacts millions of people in this world. To accuse Bierman of such is irresponsible and inflammatory. It's a line that should not have been crossed, especially by Dolan, who acknowledged his sobriety.
Dolan's response, which, in fairness, was never intended for public consumption, embarrassed the league. An owner belittled one of his customers for legitimately questioning the owner's moves.
The point that Bierman is correct in most of what he said is irrelevant to me. The point is that a consumer of the Knicks deserved a little better than being insulted and branded an alcoholic.
Dolan has to be smarter than this. That couldn't have been the first antagonistic e-mail he's received from a Knicks fan. Replying in that manner was bad business and the owner has to be above that.
As far as the NBA fits in, this public relations snafu from one of its owners should have mortified everyone in the league. But that doesn't mean Silver had to intervene.
An owner spouting off to one man in an e-mail is certainly not suspension- worthy. This is not on the same planet as something Donald Sterling or Bruce Levenson. Dolan insulted one man in a bizarre and unnecessary fashion.
Could Silver have fined Dolan? Probably. It would have been a gesture to acknowledge Dolan humiliated the NBA and defamed a fan, and, presumably, a customer of the product. That shouldn't be tolerated without repercussions. This is a business after all and alienating the purchaser is idiotic, especially when the purchaser is invested in the team with the worst record.
Where Silver erred was in his nonchalant tone.
"Jim is a consummate New Yorker," Silver said to the New York Post. "Jim got an unkind email and responded with an unkind email."
So, the NBA's official position is that an owner can disparage a fan who took the time to write a letter because he lives on Long Island?
Again, this isn't Sterling, or the worst thing to happen in the history of modern civilization, but this should have been handled better by Silver. His recent history with dealing with ownership has been great, as evidenced by the Sterling saga, but in the last few weeks, questions arose.
Matt Barnes of the Los Angeles Clippers was fined $25,000 for inappropriate language to a fan. Barnes contended that fan was Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, but the league confirmed the fine was not for Barnes' interaction with Sarver.
Barnes stuck to his guns, so it seems, if you believe Barnes, that is another incident in which the league overlooked something an owner did that is not in the best interests of the game.
"As players we're obviously held to a higher standard, I've had to watch myself on that, but I think if we're held to high standards, owners should be held to even higher standards," Barnes said.
Bingo. The NBA disagrees with Barnes and me. The owners are 2-0 in Silver's eyes.
Again, to be clear, I don't think what Dolan did was heinous. It was stupid and uncalled for, and his line about sobriety warranted an apology. Insulting the consumer is dumb business and if Silver wanted to fine him, I could live with that.
Mocking the situation was wrong. Even if it's just one fan, no fan of the NBA deserved that kind of treatment from an owner, who, frankly should let things like that roll off his back. If you're going to sit in the big chair, and you're going to make the decisions, the fans can call you on it. Take it like a big boy.
Then, to compound it, that one fan gets told it's perfectly acceptable to be maligned by said ownership because New York people are tough.
The NBA is an entertainment business. It, more often than not, caters to its fan base. That's what the association should be. Allowing this to go by as a funny New Yorker joke offends that base. They deserve better.
The big picture says this incident is nothing. Dolan is a bad owner and one fan told him so. Dolan manifested exactly what is thought of him. The NBA could have done better.
Irving, go be a Nets fan. Or, go be an NHL fan. They'd be happy to have you.