Throughout his teleconference with salivating, aghast, my pearls! city sportswriters this afternoon, Donnie Walsh did everything he could to portray the fact that the man who saved the franchise from a decade of ruin is leaving that franchise back in the hands of Jim Dolan and that it’s, you know, no big deal. He’s just getting old. He didn’t want to stay more than one year. He doesn’t have the energy anymore. He even cited Jerry Sloan, the Jazz coach who decided he’d had enough earlier this year. It’s that simple: I’m just old, guys. He said he wanted to stay one extra year, but not two, and that it wouldn’t be fair to the Knicks to pay him a year’s salary for a 2011–12 season that might not even happen. He was straightforward, direct, and matter-of-fact. Donnie Walsh is universally beloved as a stand-up fellow, even by the cynical gents and gals unfortunate enough to be on the Knicks beat; no one would ever accuse him of lying. But that’s what they all thought he was doing. They all thought he was lying.
Oh, they won’t put it that way. They’ll couch it in kinder terms, like “being a loyal guy,” and “taking the high road.” But lest there be any doubt: There wasn’t a single person on that teleconference, and there won’t be a single person in the tabloids tomorrow, who doesn’t think Walsh was lying to them. They think he was pushed out, and they think he was pushed out by Isiah, who wants to ascend again to the throne that Walsh just finished cleaning all the blood off of. That’s going to be the story. That’s going to be what everyone believes.
But is it true? Walsh took great pains on the teleconference to emphasize that he does not believe Thomas was working behind the scenes to have him ousted, that he hasn’t even talked to him in “a very long time.” He talked about the constant Isiah talk being a media obsession, an “annoyance,” but something that never affected his life and certainly had nothing to with his exit. He was unequivocal about this: This was 100 percent his decision. If there weren’t a lockout coming, he would have stayed on for this upcoming season, and then he’d retire. He didn’t want to stay for two years or more. The “job” — that is, making the Knicks a championship contender — would require two years or more. (Side note: Oh, great, more waiting!) So, therefore, ergo, thus … he’s leaving. “I don’t have the energy for it anymore,” he said, at least twice.
Nobody bought a word of it. All the people on the teleconference believe they know what is really going on, and fans all believe the same thing. If the headlines from the teleconference were truly honest, they would say, “WALSH LEAVES JOB WITH 37 MINUTES OF TOTAL BULLSHIT.” But everyone likes Donnie, so the lying is a badge of honor. “Walsh will never blast an employer on the way out. Just never. His DNA is different, admirable. He’ll never tell-all on Dolan relationship,” tweeted Adrian Wojnarowski, the guy who has done more than anyone else to keep the Isiah in Temporary Exile narrative going. (Along with Frank Isola of the Daily News, who was tweeting his skepticism like a crazy person throughout the teleconference.) It is quite something to watch a pack of reporters fall all over themselves praising a man for blatant deceit.
But again: Is it deceit? Isn’t it at least possible that Walsh, who is 70 years old and showed up to the LeBron James pitch meeting a year ago in a wheelchair, really doesn’t have the energy for this anymore? That he would have been up for just one more year, but the instability surrounding the lockout made signing up for that year unfeasible? (Walsh treated the lockout as a certainty and even sort of implied that there won’t be much work for the next GM to do over the next few months after the draft anyway: “Sure, another year’s pay would have been a windfall for me, but not a very good deal for the team,” he said.) That Isiah Thomas — whom Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have both said they barely know at all and haven’t seen in years — actually isn’t pulling all the strings at the Garden after all?
It certainly seems possible. But it doesn’t matter now. Walsh is out earlier than anyone, including himself, ever expected, and now Jim Dolan, with the man who fixed his franchise out of the way and two superstars ready to fill higher-priced seats at the reconstructed Garden, is back operating the Knicks on his own whim again. And that’s why no one believed Walsh. Not with that guy in charge. Not with Isiah not having been banished from the kingdom. Not with the circus the Garden has been every year that Donnie Walsh wasn’t around. For the last three years, Donnie Walsh has been the only person involved with the Knicks, media, player, fan, that everyone trusted, with good reason. Now he’s gone. The cynicism is now free to run rampant. And God, why wouldn’t it?
The Knicks will look at general manager candidates but probably won’t hire one until after the draft. It could end up being someone from within, either Allan Houston or Mark Warkentien. But it won’t be Donnie Walsh. It’ll be someone who doesn’t have the standing or reputation that Walsh did, to stand up to Dolan. Which means Dolan will be in charge. Dolan drove a car into a ditch, Walsh towed it out, and now Dolan not only wants to drive again, he thinks he’s the one who towed it in the first place. Whether Walsh was telling the truth or not, Jim Dolan now has unfettered, unquestioned control of everything that happens with the New York Knicks. Be afraid, everyone. Be very afraid.