Spike Lee, the Oscar-winning filmmaker and most famous fan of the Knicks, has accused the franchise and its owner, James L. Dolan, of repeatedly lying about why he was stopped shortly after entering Madison Square Garden before a game on Monday night.
Lee said he would not be returning for another Knicks home game this season.
“I was praying, hopefully, that the Knicks would put in a good effort, so it could be a competitive game,” Lee told The New York Times in a phone interview on Tuesday. “This is the last thing I wanted.”
At dispute is which entrance Lee can use to attend games. Lee said he had used an entrance on West 33rd Street for nearly 30 years, including as recently as last week; that entrance is typically reserved for the news media, employees and attendees who are disabled.
But on Monday, as the Knicks prepared to face the Houston Rockets, Lee said he went through the entrance, had his ticket scanned and was stopped by Madison Square Garden staff members, who told him he had to leave and re-enter elsewhere. Lee declined, he said, because his ticket had already been scanned. This led to a heated confrontation, video of which quickly went viral on social media. The Knicks later said — and Lee denied — that he had been told several times not to use that entrance.
“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 V.I.P. entrance — which is used by every other celebrity who enters The Garden — is laughable,” the Knicks said in a statement on Tuesday after Lee appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” television show to discuss the incident. “It’s disappointing that Spike would create this controversy to perpetuate drama.”
In an interview with The Times, Lee fired back: “What’s laughable is how the Knicks are the laughingstock of the league.”
The back-and-forth between Lee and the Knicks, especially the team’s cutting statement on Tuesday, seemed to encapsulate the Knicks of the Dolan era. Rather than trying to de-escalate tension, the team alienated an individual who has remained loyal to the franchise through its many lows and who is as linked with the team as any player.
“This press release, which is upsetting me, is an unmitigated, baldfaced lie,” Lee said. “Capital letters. On my late mother and my late brother’s grave, this is a lie. That they say that they had repeatedly asked me not to use the employee entrance. That is a lie.”
Earlier, in a text message to The Times, Lee said, “Dolan is harassing me,” echoing comments he made on ESPN.
Lee eventually made it to his usual courtside seat on Monday. At one point he shook hands with Dolan, a gesture shown in a photograph that was tweeted on the Knicks’ public relations account on Tuesday. It was accompanied by a statement that said of Lee: “He is welcome to come to The Garden anytime via the V.I.P. entrance; just not through our employee entrance, which is what he and Jim agreed to last night when they shook hands.”
Lee told The Times he thought that the photo was “planned,” calling it “a set-up photo op.”
“At halftime, Mr. Dolan comes to my seat and says, ‘We need to talk.’ And I said, ‘Talk about what?’ ‘We need to talk.’ I said, ‘Mr. Dolan, no one told me. I’ve not been informed by texts, emails, phone calls that there’s a new policy on using the employee entrance. No one told me,’” Lee said.
As for the handshake?
Lee initially said he had not shaken Dolan’s hand but later acknowledged that he was mistaken.
“If I shook hands, you know what? I was not in my right mind, so I’ll retract that statement,” Lee said. “First of all, I didn’t want to speak to him. It wasn’t until halfway through the conversation when I got out of my seat.”
Lee said that even before the incident, he did not have much of a relationship with Dolan.
“I went to one picnic,” Lee said. “That’s it. I’m courteous. If I see him, I say hello. That’s it. We’re not having any conversation.”
In the meantime, Lee said with his well-known cackle, he has already been approached by the Nets, the Knicks’ crosstown rivals, to attend games. The Nets took a dig at the Knicks on social media, posting a picture of Lee shaking hands with their star Kevin Durant, along with a caption that said, “What’s this about a handshake photo?” The team later deleted the post.
“I’m not going to let anybody take away my love for the orange and blue skies,” Lee said, referring to the Knicks’ colors. “It’s not happening. I wish the Nets luck. But that ain’t happening.”
This incident was the latest twist in an unusually dramatic season for the Knicks — even by the franchise’s standards for grabbing unwanted headlines. This feud has overshadowed what was supposed to be a jubilant first day of work for the new team president, Leon Rose, and Monday’s thrilling 125-123 win over the playoff-bound Rockets.
The Knicks will most likely miss the playoffs for the seventh straight year — the longest streak of postseason absences for the franchise since the 1960s. After years of attendance numbers that seemed immune to poor on-court performance, the crowds at Knicks games have begun to decline. But Lee, until now, has been a constant.
Now the Knicks will find themselves without one of their most dedicated fans. The conflict recalled the 2017 incident when Dolan barred the beloved former Knick Charles Oakley from the arena.
According to Lee, when staff members stopped him on Monday, he demanded to be arrested like Oakley. During the telephone interview, Lee said he had already heard from Oakley, plus Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, and Reggie Miller, the former Indiana Pacers guard who bedeviled the Knicks in the 1990s, often mere feet away from Lee. Miller also poked fun at Lee on Twitter on Tuesday, encouraging him to become a Pacers fan.
Lee said he felt that he was being targeted personally by Dolan, but he wouldn’t speculate as to why. He added that he wanted Dolan to sell the team — “but that’s not going to happen.”
His comments soon turned to the existential.
“I went to bed last night. You know what I was thinking about? Am I going to go to the grave without another banner being raised in the world’s most famous arena?” Lee said.
Then he added: “Hey, I don’t like to predict the future, but I’m 62 years old. How long have I got left?”