This week’s entry…Charles Oakley
Charles Oakley helped define the 1990s NBA, for good and for bad. His Knicks teams were always in contention but could never get past the Michael Jordan hurdle. And when Jordan went away for a couple years they finally made the Finals but lost to Hakeem and the Rockets. Oakley had skills – he could shoot the midrange, defend the opponent’s best front court player and was a nifty passer. The 6’8″ power forward was prototypical for the position in the ’90s – a plodding enforcer and rebounder who could be a complementary scorer. That type of power forward is becoming a relic, in today’s small-ball, stretch 4 craze, and I won’t argue that the evolution is bad (even though I love the ’90s). One thing about ’90s basketball I can’t wax nostalgic about were the New York Knicks, and while not as famous as Patrick Ewing and John Starks, Oakley was the spirit animal of slow, boring, overly physical play.
Oak had some nice statistical years, especially between 1993-94 and 1996-97. He average between 10-12 points and 8-12 rebounds in those years, upping his game in the 93-94 playoffs to 13 and 12 over 25 games, and making the 1994 All Star Game.
But to be honest, enough about his numbers or even basketball in general. The true legacy of Oak is his on-court brawling, his disdain for modern players (and Charles Barkley), and his membership in Michael Jordan’s entourage. Oak has been MJ’s right hand man and security detail for years after becoming one of the most feared players in the NBA. If you step on MJ’s Pumas in a club or he owes you money from a gambling debt, have fun dealing with Oakley. But that doesn’t mean tough guys don’t dance. Watch this video from a ’90s Oprah show and thank me later.
MJ and Oakley became close when they played together for the Bulls in the late-’80s, but he probably earned his quasi-bodyguard role in the 90s after showing a quick temper that usually meant haymakers for anyone in his path. He even fought Barkley in a PRESEASON game. That’s great hustle.
In later years, Oakley has very predictably become the type of crotchety ex-player that I love to hear grieve for the game’s great past. He showed recently that he may be the least self-aware former athlete in history, quite an accomplishment, when he said the modern NBA game is hard to watch. This from a guy whose teams played some of the slowest basketball since the all white guy days, specializing in low scoring snooze-fests that only became watchable when a brouhaha would break out. Here’s one more fight video to enjoy, along those lines…