Thursday, February 8, 2007

Meet the New Boss, the Son of the Old Boss

Look, we've all heard the old saws about absolute power corrupting absolutely, but what about dynastic wealth bestowed upon the second generation? The 2nd-gen editions of success in America (I'm thinking of last names like Hilton, Osborne, Hogan, even, ah, Bush) can't help but make you yearn for the past when the oligarchs kept their kids in the country club. The outlook for these types today is grim: one generation makes wealth, the next snorts it up while huddled in the bathroom of a Los Angeles club with Lionel Ritchie's daughter, the son of a Greek shipping magnate and some twitchy guy in a blazer who may or may not have been a tertiary character on last year's season of Laguna Beach. Maybe Matt Leinart is involved if you're lucky. It's not pretty.

So, before I drop my own faux Michael Lewis-ian rant about S.L. Price's profile of Dolan in Sports Illustrated, let me just say that Dolan is an early-model version of this archetype. That's right, I said it: James Dolan was the prototype for today's Paris Hiltons. Think about it - hugely successful families, odd fascination with the public eye, flirtation with a career in music, broad addictions, profligacy and irresponsibility, rehab.

But what happens when one of these schmucks actually runs a company? Where are the market consequences to James Dolan's mismanagement? Besides the knee-jerk disgust that, as a Knicks fan, I can't help but feeling over James D's d-bagitude, Price's article reveals just insulated from the team's struggles the guy actually is. On some level, this is obvious -- he's the bosses' son, he can't be fired. Cablevision is a public company which owns the Garden and the Knicks , but its entertainment division isn't its main source of revenue. On a personal level, the guy's a billionaire and really has never been subject to, say, health care cost increases or getting laid off. Cablevision could go bankrupt and the Dolan family would still turn out alright.
The man who is in charge of the Knicks is protected from the entire idea of a performance-driven market, in a way that's remarkable even in the salary-capped NBA. Contracts are bought out and not sold or traded as the market demands, effectively valuing them at twice their worth. Rather than exploring the market for better candidates with proven track records, Isiah Thomas is hired, fails miserably at his job over a three-year period and is then given, you guessed it, more responsibility. From the market-as-metaphor department, working class anthems, as described in Price's piece, are mocked by the scion of a family that owns the vast majority of a company with a market capitalization of almost $9 billion. Let's be specific, Price is talking about our owner holding an electric guitar and turning "Born to Run" into, effectively, "I'm a Rich Man's Son."

In this scene, James Dolan singing directly to Dave Checkets, then the Garden's top guy and likely the last voice of reason. Keep in mind this happened back in 2001. The scene that Price describes proved to be so damn prophetic for Knicks fans, it might as well have been written on a stone tablet.

"Dave, this company rips the bones from your back:
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap.
You should have got out while you were young...
Because I have something to tell you: I'm Chuck Do- lan's son!"
Later, there are several examples of the ex-addict and alchoholic yelling at his underlings. Then there he is sitting courtside because, he says, it helps him be a more effective manager.
"I'm actually looking at them and saying, 'I sign your check. When you do great, I feel great. When you do bad, I feel bad.'"
There's the expected exodus of employees, the addictions and, while the Knicks were approaching the NBA Finals in 1993, there was the inevitable 12-step rehab conversion at Hazelden, the site of many a rich kid's salvation. There's Bush-like insistance to "Follow the plan" and a Rove-ian all-out shunning of the media. The highlight, for this reader, was a hilarious scene where Dolan issues an angry, all-out objection to an increased Rangers budget for the upcoming NHL season, while failing to realize that last year's budget reflected A LOCKOUT SHORTENED SEASON. Apparently, Jimmy D has trouble understanding the concept of numerical value.

From a fan's perspective it's hard to find anything very pleasant about Price's piece on Dolan (he does call Eddy Curry "a revelation," a claim which shall be dealt with in future posts). The fact that Dolan reached out to Vin and Tonic and supports Mutumbo's charities really isn't a consolation. Knowing that your beloved sports franchise is being run by a egomaniacal ex-addict prone to angry outbursts is never a good thing. And it may not be better than having the team be in the hands of that guy from Laguna Beach.

[All references to 'market-driven' are completely ripped off from Michael Lewis without permission]

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