Lord Jim (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 6, 2007 10:55AM; Updated: Friday February 9, 2007 3:14PM
The real Jim Dolan, though, can be anything but pleasant. He cut his business teeth in the Darwinian world of 1970s cable television, a zero-sum game in which everyone was an enemy and monopoly was the goal. Saved by the 12-step process, he lards his speech with references to "sticking to the plan" and "following the strategy." When someone doesn't, there's trouble. In March 2001, Dolan was due to show up at Radio City Music Hall, which Cablevision also owns, to help review a dress rehearsal of an upcoming production. Trying to give the workshop a sense of occasion, Seth Abraham, then head of Radio City and soon to be president of the Garden, and Jay Smith, the show's executive producer, put on usher's jackets and waited along with cast members, Radio City staff and a clutch of Garden executives to greet Dolan in the lobby. Dolan, who arrived in a white limo, grew livid at the stunt. "Get in your suits!" he shouted at Abraham and Smith. "I'm controlling this process! I run this f------ company!"
Abraham and Smith got back in their suits. Dolan went inside, calmly took a seat and said, "O.K., show me what you got."
In January 2003 the Grammy Awards announced its nominations live on network TV from the Garden. Dolan was due to be onstage with the artists and music industry types. But despite being warned not to direct his limousine up a specific Garden ramp because it would be congested, Dolan insisted on it, walked into the Garden late and was steaming backstage as the show went on. "Find me a room so I can yell louder than I've ever yelled before," he told subordinates. For 45 minutes he raged at the Garden managers. "Absolutely out of control," says one former Garden executive. "And everybody in the room had done his job -- and done it well."
"He flies off the handle, and there's no rhyme or reason," says a former sports executive at the Garden. "We'd walk out and say, 'That was a good meeting.' Why? Because no one was torn apart."
"It's basically his way or the highway," says former Garden vice president of security John Fahy, who was fired after Dolan saw a suitcase under a nearby chair during the Knicks' last playoff game in 2004. "Whether or not it's right, it doesn't matter. I'd put some [security] on him, and he'd scream at the guy to get away from him. But when somebody's not on him and there's a problem? He wants to know where somebody is. You can't win with the guy."
Both current and former high-level employees from the Knicks, the Rangers, Madison Square Garden and MSG Network testify to Dolan's need to constantly reassert his place at the top of the food chain. They speak of a "reign of fear" or "culture of paranoia" in which people are more concerned with pleasing Dolan than doing an exemplary job. Most speak only under a guarantee of anonymity. "They hate to be challenged," Bob Gutkowski, a longtime New York sports executive and president of the Garden from 1991 through '94, says of the Dolans. "Cablevision has always been a fighter: 'Never give up, never give in, we're right, and we will do whatever we can do to win the battle.' That's the most important thing: We can't be wrong."
None are shocked by Dolan's dismissive reaction to Sanders's lawsuit against Thomas -- "absolutely baseless." A judge and jury will decide whether he's right. But Sanders's dismissal is in keeping with Dolan's knee-jerk combativeness. Since taking over the Garden he has fought the Nets and the Yankees over cable rights; beat the Jets, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and proponents of holding the 2012 Olympic Games in New York City over a proposed West Side stadium that would have competed directly with Madison Square Garden; and enraged Knicks fans by jettisoning longtime broadcaster Marv Albert from MSG Network because of his on-air criticism of the team.
Alcoholics Anonymous members use a phrase, dry drunk, to describe "somebody who is not drinking but hasn't changed who they are," Dolan says, raising two fists into the air. "Part and parcel of a dry drunk is white-knuckling: No, I'm not going to have that drink -- even though I really want that drink. They're hanging onto their sobriety. My sobriety is who I am now. I don't think every day about being sober." But at his worst Dolan can exhibit every trait commonly attributed to dry drunks: exaggerated self-importance, rigidly judgmental outlook, impatience, childishness, irresponsible behavior, irrational rationalization, projection and overreaction. "If you have most of these, call your doctor," says one former Garden executive. "He's got every one."
Columnists continually question Dolan's intelligence, and three former high-level employees use the word dumb to describe him. But that's simplistic. After all, he envisioned and helped organize the poignant Concert for New York City just five weeks after 9/11, outpointed his father in Cablevision squabbles and outmaneuvered Bloomberg in the stadium fight. (Dolan oversees Cablevision's telecommunications services as well as its sports and entertainment properties; his father has little to do with the hockey and basketball franchises.) "He's not dumb," a New York sports executive with close knowledge of Dolan's Garden says of Jim. "He's reckless. He was reckless with his personal life, and now he's reckless with the teams."
But Dolan is not always oblivious to the damage he does. "I'm still working on not losing my temper," he says. "I'm always trying to be a better person, always trying to be smarter, more compassionate, more successful in my relationships.... I hate it when I bring somebody down.... And I've had to apologize for myself."
The most memorable instance came in an October 2004 meeting at which Dolan took one look at the projected costs for hockey broadcasts on MSG Network in '05, with numbers far higher than those for '04, and started shouting. Mike McCarthy, the president of MSG Network, tried to point out that the '04 NHL lockout had kept costs down. Dolan wouldn't hear it, thinking he was somehow being taken, though the higher '05 budget reflected only the assumption that the lockout would end and games would be played. McCarthy quit soon after, and all he has said since then is that "it was time for a change." Dolan tried to make amends, e-mailing an apology to McCarthy and everyone else who had been in the room. It was too late.
"I tell you: After you do that, it makes it easier to control yourself," Dolan says. "If you go and apologize, I'm not saying it fixes it, but it at least helps me. I hope I'm getting better at it. Quitting smoking didn't help."
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