The Knicks have never been the same since GM Ernie Grunfeld pulled the trigger in 1998 and shipped Charles Oakley to Toronto for Marcus Camby. Sure, they made it to the NBA Finals the next (strike-shortened) year and then the conference finals the next year. But they were just running on fumes, and now they’re on empty.

During Oakley’s decade as a Knick, he put the “power” in power forward, and the Knicks were a solid playoff team season after season. Today, they’re a team of lost souls with a front line that wouldn’t scare a college team. And in exchange for their most dynamic player, Latrell Sprewell, they’ve just brought in one of the league’s softest forwards, Keith Van Horn.

Even before that deal, Oakley, now 39 and a free agent looking to play a 19th season in the league, gave the Voice a blunt appraisal of the team that jilted him. Last year’s front line of Kurt Thomas, Othella Harrington, and Clarence Weatherspoon? “They’re trash,” Oakley said. “They should be taken out with the garbage every night.” He ought to really like Van Horn.

More Oak-speak:

  • “New York is something special. The fans want to win. The guys the Knicks got now are too nice. They don’t challenge the other guys. They haven’t been taught the proper things. They don’t know how to win. People aren’t getting their money’s worth when they come out and catch a game. That’s the reason Van Gundy quit. He saw the guys had stopped working; they weren’t getting any better.”

  • “The role players, they’re playing hard, but the fans get on them. They act tough, but they’re not tough. They get booed and stuff and they can’t handle it. It just kills their spirit. . . . The guys on the Knicks now, whenever you see them out, it’s like they got to have ten bodyguards around them. They’re sheltered—like Patrick was. The city wanted to embrace him, but he wouldn’t open the door. He’d walk out the back door.”

  • “I like New York. I always wish them well, but the only way they’re going to get better—without a change in the salary cap—is to go out and spend more money and get some tough players. It doesn’t matter if you’re five million or 10 million dollars over the cap. They got to get back in the playoffs and have a team the fans can root for. They need a will. Because when you’re on a bad team, you’re going to play bad. Like taking trash out the back and hope the van picks you up.” —Dan Markowitz


    With the tristate media and Brooklyn beep Marty Markowitz all a-flutter over the prospect of a Nets-to-Brooklyn move (though we’re pretty sure Marty-Mark gets his flutter on over breakfast every morning), it’s worth noting that some major obstacles stand in the way of a Nathan’s Famous Arena.

    First off, the site proposed by developers Forest City Ratner sits over the LIRR tracks south of Atlantic Avenue. That’s not a problem, so long as money is no object. After all, Madison Square Garden is built atop a train station, as is the Fleet Center in Boston. What could be a problem: Any self-respecting arena would need a footprint at least 400 feet across, and the LIRR plot is less than half that wide. With the Atlantic Center mall to the north, the only way to expand would be south, requiring the closure of Pacific Street and demolition of an entire block of buildings.

    Moreover, the only reason the Nets are playing footsie with Brooklyn in the first place is that Newark officials balked at paying two-thirds of the cost of a $355 million arena that’s been in the works since the John Calipari era. With YankeeNets unwilling or unable to kick in much more than 100 mil or so, who would cover the remainder of the half-billion-dollar estimated price tag? Is there an eighth day of the week that Mayor Bloomberg can run parking meters?

    With speed bumps like these, the Brooklyn arena rumor might be viewed as mere shadow play: YankeeNets gets a cudgel to use on recalcitrant Newark pols, Forest City Ratner gets to inject itself into the arena-construction field, and Markowitz gets his name in the paper. But then, they said the Yankees would never build a stadium in Manhattan, and . . . right, shadow play it is. —Neil deMause


    Ex-Georgetown coach John Thompson has pretty good timing as a basketball commentator. But as an investor, his timing is superb. In June, Kobe Bryant signed a five-year $45 million endorsement deal with Nike, of which Thompson is a director. But on July 18, the rape charge was filed, threatening Bryant’s value to Nike and its stock price.

    Thompson, though, is ahead of the game. SEC records show that he netted $410,000 by selling Nike stock on July 16—two days before the image-damaging charge was filed. He exercised an option to buy 10,000 shares at a measly $12 or so each (one of his perks as a director), and he sold them the same day at $53 a share—he paid $120,313, and grossed $530,000. Good timing? Well, Thompson did a nearly identical transaction last April, clearing about $400,000. Only eight more of those, and he can buy a $4 million ring just as Kobe did.

    But don’t expect the Indonesians who make Nike goods to start flooding jewelry stores. Their wages (as of 2002) were 27 cents an hour, or $561.60 a year. At that rate, it would take one worker only 7,122 years (plus six months) to pay for a $4 million ring. By then, the Kobe fallout will probably have blown over. —Ward Harkavy

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