James Dolan’s Company Escalates a Fight With The Daily News

Weeks after the Knicks were fined by the N.B.A. for barring The Daily News from a news conference, the team’s parent company has become embroiled in a bitter dispute with the newspaper that is cast in unusually personal terms.

On Wednesday, The Daily News published an article about a long-running battle over a real estate development project in Inglewood, Calif., a city just south of Los Angeles.

James L. Dolan is chief executive of the Madison Square Garden Company, the holding company that controls the Knicks, Madison Square Garden and other venues including the Forum in Inglewood, where the Los Angeles Lakers played for over 30 years before moving to downtown Los Angeles in 1999. Dolan purchased the Forum in 2012.

The article, under the headline “James Dolan and MSG are waging a war on Inglewood over new Clippers arena project,” was critical of a lawsuit Dolan filed against the city of Inglewood and of his efforts to protect his stake in the lucrative Los Angeles concert business.

In a bombastic statement emailed to reporters and tweeted by the Knicks public relations account on Wednesday, the Madison Square Garden Company accused The Daily News of animus, saying Dolan had once fired Timothy P. Knight, now the head of Tribune Publishing, which owns The Daily News. In a statement at the time, in 2009, Knight said he had quit as the publisher of Newsday, which is owned by the Dolan family and based on Long Island.

The dispute comes at a time when hopes for a turnaround by the long-struggling Knicks have been roundly dashed, and a summer that Dolan promised would herald a new era for the franchise has instead highlighted continued dysfunction at the highest levels.

Several elite free agents — including Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving — hit the market this summer; they all bypassed the Knicks and the allure of calling the Garden their home. Stars clamoring to be traded also ignored Dolan’s team.

With the worst record in the league last season, the Knicks had a strong chance of landing the top draft pick and Zion Williamson, the Duke star who is considered a once-in-a-generation prospect. The lottery gave them the No. 3 pick instead, and they took Williamson’s college teammate R.J. Barrett, whose introductory news conference led to a $50,000 fine against the Knicks for barring The Daily News.

In its statement on Wednesday, the Madison Square Garden Company called the article about the Los Angeles real estate project an “epically overwritten hit piece” and said it was one of many “egregious, personal attacks” by The Daily News.

Robert York, the editor in chief of The Daily News, said that there was “no truth” to any claims of a personal vendetta and that The Daily News’ “sole mission is to accurately report relevant news, and this piece fits the classic definition of newsworthy information.”

While the Knicks organization has frequently sparred with The Daily News over articles about the team’s poor performance in the past two decades, the rancor has reached a new level with the reporting on Dolan’s legal and financial dealings.

In 2017, Inglewood entered into an agreement with Steve Ballmer, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for a new basketball arena near the Forum. Ballmer wants to move the Clippers out of Staples Center, which they share with the Lakers, and into a building he owns.

The next year, the Madison Square Garden Company sued Inglewood and its mayor, James T. Butts Jr., accusing Butts of tricking the company into giving up land that could now be used as part of Ballmer’s arena project. Besides hosting Clippers games, the new arena would potentially compete with the Forum for concerts and other events that come to the Los Angeles area.

According to The Daily News, during a deposition Dolan gave in the lawsuit last year he said that he had barely known an Inglewood mayoral candidate whom he supported with significant funding and that he had tried to get the Lakers to return to The Forum.

The Daily News also reported that the Madison Square Garden Company had tried to rally influential entertainment figures to oppose the Clippers plans, and that the company was funding a lawsuit by a community group that claims Inglewood violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

Rather than respond directly to The Daily News reporting, the Madison Square Garden Company’s statement called the article “grossly misleading.” No errors in the reporting were cited.

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