Spike Lee Compares Knicks' James Dolan's Response to George Floyd's Death to Trump's Handling of Charlottesville

Spike Lee has criticized New York Knicks owner James Dolan for behaving like President Donald Trump in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Floyd died while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25, triggering worldwide protests calling for an end to police brutality and racial discrimination.

A host of players, coaches and executives across the four major U.S. leagues publicly spoke out on the issue and some players joined the demonstrations, while teams in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL all condemned Floyd's death.

After being criticized for issuing a run-of-the-mill statement in the immediate aftermath of Floyd's death, the NFL went as far as acknowledging it had not done enough to heed black players' calls for justice in the past.

The Knicks came under intense scrutiny for a similarly lukewarm response to the protests that followed Floyd's death.

In a memo to employees dated June 1, which was subsequently leaked to ESPN, Dolan acknowledged the gravity of the situation but insisted that in its role as entertainment company, MSG—which owns New York's Madison Square Garden, the Knicks and the NHL's New York Rangers—was not qualified to make a public statement.

"We at Madison Square Garden stand by our values of a respectful and peaceful workplace. We always will," the memo read.

"As companies in the business of sports and entertainment, however, we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters."

I'm told that Knicks players and employees are furious that the team hasn't made a public statement about George Floyd. And I just obtained the e-mail that owner Jim Dolan sent to MSG employees today defending the organization's decision to stay silent: pic.twitter.com/xG1BA7tV5V

— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) June 2, 2020

Lee, however, was not convinced by Dolan's explanation and compared with Trump's failure to condemn white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

"That sounds like the guy in the White House commenting on what happened in Charlottesville, that there were good guys on both sides," the Academy Award winner and die-hard Knicks fan said on ESPN's First Take on Thursday.

"For me, that's the same thing. That's the same mentality."

A day after his first memo, Dolan attempted to clarify his stance in another internal email.

"Yesterday, I made a sincere attempt to provide my perspective on a very difficult issue, one that has no easy answers," the email said as per ESPN.

"I know how important this topic is to so many, and I do not want there to be any confusion about where I as an individual, or we as a company stand.

"So let me be clear: we vehemently condemn and reject racism against anyone, period."

Eventually, the Knicks and MSG released a joint statement on Tuesday, but they did not mention Floyd directly, nor the issue of police brutality.

"Everyone of us has a role to play in creating a more just and equal society, where there is no racism, bigotry, violence or hate," it read.

"We stand with all who act for positive change."


— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) June 9, 2020

Dolan is a deeply unpopular figure and among Knicks fans and his political allegiances have repeatedly come under the microscope.

In 2017, citing public records, the New York Daily News reported Dolan donated $300,000 to a fundraising committee called "Trump Victory" in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential Elections and donated a further $2,700—the maximum individual amount allowed—directly to Trump's campaign.

Lee is an outspoken critic of Dolan and earlier this year announced he would not attend another Knicks home game this season.

In March, the 62-year-old was told he could not use the employee entrance into the arena, which he claimed to have walked through each time he's attended a game of his beloved Knicks in the last 28 years.

"I'm being harassed by James Dolan, and I don't know why," Lee said at the time.

Spike Lee, New York Knicks
Director and New York Knicks fan Spike Lee looks on before the start of the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Mike Lawrie/Getty