Jeremy Lin vs. James Dolan: Whose Side To Take in War of Words?

Lin speaks out as Dolan feels betrayal. Is there anyone to believe?

lin dolan Jeremy Lin vs. James Dolan: Whose Side To Take in War of Words?

Last season’s New York Knicks sensation is this season’s New York Knicks departure: Jeremy Lin is gone, off to the Houston Rockets. Jeremy Lin says he would have preferred New York, why New York Knicks owner and president James Dolan says he’s feeling hurt and betrayed by the move. Whose side should Knicks fans take? 

The dispute came down to a matter of money: The Knicks didn’t want to pay Jeremy Lin the offer handed to him by the Houston Rockets; they felt that he was untested, and not worth his asking price. But is this true? After all, Jeremy Lin brought a whole bunch of fans to basketball and the Knicks who weren’t there before, which is besides the fact that his emergence as a global sensation basically solved one of the most bitter cable carrier fee disputes in recent history. Shareholders in Madison Square Garden Entertainment stock certainly don’t buy the Knicks’ line; the stock has taken a hit since Lin’s departure became imminent (and continues to go down through today).

Now, we’re hearing from Jeremy Lin and James Dolan, as each air out their own side of the story.

[READ MORE: The Jeremy Lin Effect on $MSG Stock: Jimmy, We're Going Down]

Sports Illustrated’s Pablo Torre got an exclusive interview with Lin. Highlights:

Why Lin Left:

“…My main goal in free agency was to go to a team that had plans for me and wanted me. I wanted to have fun playing basketball. … Now I’m definitely relieved.”

The Moment Lin Knew He Might Leave:

“[Former Knicks point guard Raymond] Felton’s signing was the first time when I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I might not be a Knick,'” Lin said.

Why Houston?

“The Rockets kept saying how sorry they were that that they’d cut him, and how much of a mistake it was,” [Jeremy Lin's agent Jim Tanner] said. “They almost said it too many times. They kept acknowledging it.

Why It’s Not About The Money:

The notion that Lin has always cared about money above all else, in particular, eats away at him, especially as he sleeps in his childhood home. “If I really wanted to, I could have triple-digit endorsements,” Lin pointed out, but he does not. Instead, and in large part because Lin wanted to concentrate on basketball, he declined to cash in on the Linsanity gold-rush — namely, the mountain of business opportunities in Asia — and picked only three companies: Volvo, Steiner Sports and Nike.

What James Dolan Told Lin:

“I have plans for you in the future,” Lin recalled the owner saying. “This is a long-term investment. Don’t rush back.”

Lin on Playing in New York City:

“I love the New York fans to death,” Lin said. “That’s the biggest reason why I wanted to return to New York. The way they embraced me, the way they supported us this past season, was better than anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. I’ll go to my grave saying that. What New York did for me was unbelievable. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career.”

Meanwhile, Knicks owner James L. Dolan unofficially aired out his side of things via sourcing to the New York Daily News:

The decision was both financial and emotional since Garden chairman James Dolan was upset over Lin restructuring his deal with Houston last week to include a third year salary of $14.9 million. Dolan, according to sources, felt he was deceived by the 23-year-old Lin.

That’s it. No interviews, no media statements, nothing else from James Dolan other than the fact that he felt “deceived.” James Dolan’s relationship with Knicks fans is already tense: There was that nasty streak of letting Isaiah Thomas run the team that didn’t work out, which is to say nothing of contracts like those handed to Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, and so on. He’s had an embattled relationship with the sports press, at one point all but completely denying them access to the team. And ticket prices—which have only steadily risen over the years despite the team’s lack of serious playoff appearances over the last decade—recently took another hike as box seating was placed lower in The Garden, effectively alienating the socioeconomic majority of fans who even could see the team play even further.

Even as the press files away columns on the matter—like the usually even-handed New York Times (“Dolan Breaks Faith With Knicks Fans Again“)—the true test of public opinion will be how Knicks fans react to Lin when he comes back to the Garden to play against the team in Houston next year. He could be booed, or—as was the case with Hideki Matsui, who the Yankees declined to resign after the championship season for which he was awarded 2009 World Series MVP—be embraced.

Either way: Besides the fact that the public financial interest (and thus, faith in him) isn’t exactly surging these days, it’s pretty clear James Dolan’s name will not be worn by fans any time soon.

fkamer@observer.com | @weareyourfek