Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden was not Charles Oakley’s first physical altercation with a team of security officers.
The former Knick said he suffered “a gang-style beatdown” in 2010 by a Las Vegas hotel and casino’s security team stemming from a disagreement over the pool’s closing time. In a lawsuit filed a year later, Oakley contended he was “wrestled to the ground, hit, punched and shoved” and suffered injuries that cut short his fledgling NBA coaching career.
The Aria hotel and casino responded with a countersuit that accused Oakley of instigating the afternoon poolside skirmish. The casino’s lawsuit said Oakley pushed, punched, kicked and bit the officers trying to restrain him and also threw a bystander’s camera in the pool.
The dual suits were settled in June 2014. Attorneys for Oakley and the casino declined to comment, citing the confidentiality clause included in their settlement.
Hundreds of court papers obtained by Newsday show similarities regarding how quickly both incidents involving Oakley and security officers escalated.
On Wednesday night, Oakley, 53, was arrested by New York City police after the former Knicks forward refused to leave his seat during the first quarter of the Knicks-Clippers game. Videos on social media show a visibly irate Oakley shouting at officers, shoving three of them, and then being dragged away and handcuffed while lying on the ground in a tunnel.
The Knicks said in a statement that Oakley “behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner.” The 6-8 Oakley — who was listed at 245 pounds during his playing days — said he did nothing wrong and didn’t know why he was being ordered to leave his seat. He did not return a message for this story.
In an interview on ESPN Radio on Thursday, Oakley apologized to fans and said, “I never wanted to be a troublemaker in life.”
In the Vegas incident, there also are diametrically differing accounts. According to court papers, Oakley said that after he left the VIP pool area, he wasn’t allowed to return and was “attacked by at least five security guards.” Oakley said his injuries — including a broken wrist and sprained shoulder, back and neck — sent him to the emergency room.
The casino’s lawsuit said the VIP pool was about to close at 5 p.m. and that Oakley grew irate when he wasn’t allowed to invite females into the area. The suit said he began pushing security guards, leading them to call for additional backup. When Oakley refused to remain there for questioning, the casino said he “threatened to do bodily harm.”
The casino’s suit said this was part of a pattern of questionable behavior by Oakley at Vegas casinos, citing a 2005 incident in which he allegedly punched a Bellagio security supervisor, a 2006 incident in which he allegedly threw dice at a Bellagio employee and a 2007 incident in which he allegedly smashed a champagne bottle on the ground. Incident reports are attached for each.
Oakley, in his deposition, admitted to throwing punches during the poolside skirmish with security officers but said his actions were justified.
“We can talk, but he can’t put his hand on me,” Oakley testified, referring to how the incident escalated. He said he felt “like I’m about to get taken out” when he saw other security guards approaching him. “I’m just, you know, trying to protect myself,” he added.
Oakley also said, “They said you can’t go nowhere, and I said I’m going to my room, so once they touched me, I felt like I had an obligation I can touch them back.”
Oakley, who made more than $50 million as an NBA player, sought $6.2 million in damages, plus attorney fees, and cited his inability to hold a job as an NBA assistant coach — a dream of his — because of his declining health.
Court papers show Oakley signed a one-year, $150,000 contract to be an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010, five months after the Vegas incident. The Bobcats, now known as the Charlotte Hornets, are owned by Michael Jordan, one of Oakley’s close friends. Two months later, Oakley signed a one-year extension to remain as assistant coach.
But Oakley’s back locked up during a March 2011 game and players carried him from the bench to the locker room. Oakley didn’t coach again. He said in court papers that he was “let go” by the Bobcats before the next season — a year earlier than his contract called for — because his health wouldn’t allow him to coach.
Court papers also include a Social Security Administration letter that states Oakley became disabled in March 2012 — when his career as an NBA coach effectively ended because of his back issues — and that he receives benefits of about $2,500 a month.
Jordan and then-Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins were listed as potential witnesses to testify about Oakley’s departure from the Bobcats. An attorney listed as representing both Jordan and Higgins didn’t return a message seeking comment.
In June 2011, Oakley told The Associated Press that he didn’t think he would be able to return as a Bobcats coach because of his health, and he cited the Vegas incident.
“I never tried to assault them,” he said. “They tried to assault me.
“I’m not a troublemaker. People say, ‘You got into a lot of incidents.’ Yeah, but it was on the basketball floor.”