Charles Oakley is perhaps the most popular New York Knick since the team last won a championship in 1973. He may not have matched Patrick Ewing's star power or scored as many points as Carmelo Anthony, but he resonated with New York City more than any other Knick because of his toughness. Nothing endears New Yorkers to a basketball player like diving for loose balls and protecting teammates. Oakley was never the best Knick, but for a decade, he was the team's best New Yorker.
That identity didn't fade even after James Dolan banned him from Madison Square Garden in 2017. The overwhelming majority of Knicks fans stand by their legend and want him to be commemorated by the team in some fashion. Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy even argued to The Athletic's Rustin Dodd that Oakley should have his number retired. It isn't the first time the idea has been raised. Knicks fans have pushed for it for years, and Dodd's incredibly thorough retelling of the night Oakley was banned will only renew that push.
The problem? Oakley appeared on BasketballNews' "Posecast" podcast and told host James Posey that the Knicks have offered him that honor and he has declined.
"They came to me and said they were going to retire my jersey, do this and do that," Oakley said in February. "And I'm like, 'Nah, you can't buy me that easy. If you retire the jersey, that benefits you, that ain't benefitting me.'"
He has a point. A public reconciliation would help the Knicks' reputation among fans but would do little for Oakley, who is already beloved. He isn't interested in token gestures. As he told Dodd, if he is recognized by the team, he wants it to be in a way that all New Yorkers can appreciate, not just those who can afford to attend games. He wants his jersey hung outside of the Garden.
"If you want to put it outside with the flag, and people don't have to pay to come in and see it … let them drive past and see it. Let it be a tourist spot."
It'd be a fitting tribute for Oakley, the people's champion of New York. The high-priced stars already have their jerseys hanging in the rafters, but no player better connected with everyday New Yorkers than Oakley, so letting all of them pay tribute in their own way would be more meaningful anyway.
As of now, there do not appear to be any plans to either retire Oakley's No. 34 jersey or hang it outside of Madison Square Garden. His feud with Dolan is ongoing, and sadly, that means Knicks fans will have to wait a while before they see their team properly honor their favorite player.