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Spike Lee, Knicks feuding over how team's superfan makes his Madison Square Garden entrance

Director Spike Lee, left, gestures in a hallway

Director Spike Lee, left, gestures in a hallway on the event level at Madison Square Garden while arguing with security officers who didn't want to permit him to access his courtside seat before the start of a game between the Knicks and the Rockets on Monday. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Monday night began with the Leon Rose era becoming official and ended with an impressive win over the Houston Rockets. Still, the talk on Tuesday centered on a feud between the Knicks and a longtime fixture of the franchise. 

Spike Lee, a season-ticket holder for 28 years and one of the team’s most fervent celebrity fans, got into a loud argument with security guards at the Garden Monday when he attempted to enter through the employee entrance and was rebuffed. While the Knicks took the high road Monday night in addressing it, when Lee then took his case to ESPN’s "First Take" Tuesday morning the confrontation reached new levels.

"I've been using the same entrance for 28-plus years — the employees' entrance on 33rd Street," Lee said. "Yesterday, last night, I go in, my ticket gets scanned. I'm in. I go in the elevator — and also people had their tickets scanned also — and the elevator's not moving. The security guy comes to me and says 'We need you to get off the elevator.' I said, 'For what?’ He said we can speak about it now. I said I’m not getting out of the elevator. So it’s another five minutes and then they finally send the elevator up because they know I’m not getting off the elevator. Get on the elevator, people don’t know — the Garden floor is on the fifth floor.

“I go up to 5, and security was waiting for me like I just ran out of Macy’s stealing something,” Lee said. "They said, the security guy says, and this comes from the top, ‘Mr. Lee, you have to leave Madison Square Garden.’ They wanted me to leave the Garden, walk outside, out to the 33rd Street entrance that I came in and come back on 31st Street [at the VIP entrance]. I said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ First of all, you scanned my ticket, you can’t scan a ticket twice. And I know once you leave a sporting event, you can’t come back in. So I don’t trust these guys, so I’m not going for the okey-doke.”

After Monday night’s statement that it was a misunderstanding and that Garden chairman James Dolan had smoothed things over in a halftime talk with Lee, the tone was much harsher from the Knicks Tuesday. The Knicks sent out photos of the entrance that shows that it is for employees, media and patrons with disabilities. They sent out another photo of Dolan and Lee speaking.

“The idea that Spike Lee is a victim because we have repeatedly asked him to not use our employee entrance and instead use a dedicated VIP entrance — which is used by every other celebrity who enters The Garden — is laughable,” the statement read. “It’s disappointing that Spike would create this false controversy to perpetuate drama. He is welcome to come to The Garden anytime via the VIP or general entrance; just not through our employee entrance, which is what he and Jim agreed to last night when they shook hands.”

Lee countered that narrative, saying, “So I said I’m not leaving. Then they said, ’We want you to leave the Garden.’ I put my hands behind my back and I said arrest me like my brother Charles Oakley.’ . . . Then at halftime Dolan comes over to me and says we need to talk. I said, 'Talk about what?’ We need to talk. I said, 'Mr. Dolan, I don't want to talk about nothing.’ I’ve been coming through this entrance for 28 years, plus Wednesday, historic event, the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, they had a Broadway [show] — they took 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and had a performance for 18,000 New York City public school kids, amazing event. Where did I go in? The employee entrance. That was Wednesday. So if they want to change this whole new policy, and first they never said when the thing changed, so why not call me? When my deposit is due, this astronomical price for Knicks tickets, and I’m one day late, my phone is ringing off the hook.”

Lee said that he was being harassed by Dolan and said he won’t be back this season — but will be back for the NBA Draft and then next season.

“Doesn’t happen to Drake [in Toronto],” Lee said. “You go down the line, Jimmy Buffett in Miami, nowhere! You got to ask Mr. Dolan. I have to say I’ve never asked for any celebrity extra. I come there, I don’t try to get on the Jumbotron, I just come there to enjoy myself. My father started taking me to the old Madison Square Garden in 1967-68. I was in the Garden May 8, 1973, for the Willis Reed game, I was 13 years old. I was in the building.

“In my heart, I’m still the kid from Brooklyn that was sneaking in the Garden. I love the Knicks, those are my guys. I grew up with Willis Reed, Red Holzman, Dick Barnett, Cazzie Russell. Dave Stallworth. Nate Bowman. Bill Bradley. Those are my guys. It’s a shame, I look up at the roof and you see the banner from 72-73? That’s the last time they had a banner. I‘m thinking am I going to die before we win another championship? Is my son, who's 24, going to die before another championship?”

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