When I spoke with Mr. Isola, the News reporter, on Saturday afternoon on the Garden floor, he pointed to a media relations official watching us. “He’s taking note that I’m talking to you,” he said.
On Monday night before a game against the Jazz, six reporters were speaking with forward Malik Rose. Nick Brown, a public relations official for the Knicks, was recording the proceedings on his BlackBerry, in an email prepared for the Knicks’s head of P.R., Jonathan Supranowitz.
Sometimes, Mr. Supranowitz does the monitoring himself.
“I take notes, absolutely,” Mr. Supranowitz said. “A P.R. person must be present for every interview. That’s a Garden policy.”
(Even, apparently, for interviews with other P.R. people: Mr. Supranowitz typed into his BlackBerry while I was speaking with his boss, Mr. Watkins.)
Even if a reporter pitches a fluff piece on a player, it can’t be done alone.
“Once you give a one-on-one interview, they all want one-on-one interviews,” Mr. Watkins said. “Instead of being available all at once, that player or coach has to do separate interviews every day, and that’s just not something we can do. We want to make sure players and coaches and all executives can focus on the task on hand.”
This is not standard practice elsewhere.
“There are very, very successful teams out there that treat the media with dignity and respect and recognize that 90 percent of the time it’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” said David Waldstein, the former Knicks beat reporter for The Star-Ledger. “Every writer who covers the Knicks gets the impression that we are treated as the enemy.”
(Starting this season, The Star-Ledger eliminated the Knicks beat, opting instead to run wire copy.)
“We have three people here tonight,” said Mr. Vaccaro of The New York Post on Monday night. “That’s 16 inches of copy and 16 inches of free space for the Knicks to sell their product, for better or for worse. To make those three stories as difficult as possible to write seems counterproductive to me.”
“[The policy] works against them,” Mr. Hahn said. “It allows for more speculation.”
The team has been willing to create especially hellish conditions for reporters who run afoul of management.
Mr. Isola now looks back wistfully on 2000, a year in which the Knicks were defending Eastern Conference Champions and once again bound for the conference finals. “One time, [former Knicks President] Dave Checketts came out to Vancouver and took the media out on a boat, and it was catered. Walt Clyde Frazier came, and so did all the media people who were traveling. As we were on it, a bald eagle flew right over the ship,” he said, breaking into an enormous smile.
“On the same trip,” he continued, “I went jogging with Barry Watkins from Marina del Rey to Santa Monica and then back. At night, we all hung out together and watched the Final Four.”
The next year, Mr. Dolan’s third as the Garden’s chief executive, Mr. Isola recalled, the Knicks instituted their new media policy. He took a breath. “And now Barry Watkins—I haven’t spoken to him since February.”
Mr. Isola says it’s because he asked Mr. Watkins to stop sending security officials to follow him around the Garden. (Mr. Watkins would not comment on this.)
Whatever the cause, Mr. Isola’s excommunication has been complete. The press office doesn’t return his phone calls, and they don’t include him on e-mails, text messages or calls with basic information about games, practices or injuries. Earlier this year, when the Knicks made phone calls to each of the beat reporters to inform them that Isiah Thomas’s contract was being extended, every reporter got a call except for Mr. Isola.
Mr. Watkins declined to discuss specific reasons for the freeze-out. “What I would say,” he said, “is the N.B.A. has certain guidelines—or certain rules, actually, not guidelines, rules—that require us to make practices open and available and make games open and available for all the writers.”
“Frank loves the Knicks,” Mr. Hahn, the Newsday reporter, said. “They don’t see that. They think he wants to cause trouble, to get people fired. There are little things like having a security guard follow him. There are people who work there who always make a reference that they can’t talk to him, because they say they’ll get fired. It’s a joke, but you know they also mean it because it’s true.”
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