Monday, January 22, 2007

Chuck Oak

Hello again.
I had planned to start of my blog with a nice historical piece and then try to move to more current stuff, but I got a nice comment from my main man Benjamin Rosenthal that inspired me to stick with the history for at least another day. After all, (almost) on this day five years ago, Charles Oakley "committed a series of hard fouls against Shaquille O'Neal that led to a fight and wrestling match which spilled over from the paint to the Chicago Bulls bench on the other side of the floor." You may remember that fight as the one in which Brad Miller came within a couple of inches of catching a monster Shaq haymaker, but it was actually Oak who was doing much of the instigating. As Mr. Miller said after the fight: "I was just glad we picked up Oakley over the summer because I knew if I got into something he'd have my back. He saved me from a shattered jaw at least."

Charles Oakley is probably one of the toughest guys in league history. He never messed around with tattoos or fancy dribbling or "dunking". He did mess around with drugs, alcohol, guns (probably) and fighting. He was all man, and everybody knew it. If you were on the floor and you were looking to play physical against an Oakley team, he was as game as anyone out there. When Jordan was a young boy, Oakley was the guy that protected him. He had some wars with Spider Salley and the so-called "bad boys" in his time. Later on, Oakley moved to the Knicks, and he was the centerpiece of easily the most physical, hustling team ever. If John Starks hadn't gone 2-18 he'd be wearing a ring. The Knicks had always been tough, but Oakley made them exponentially tougher.

If one were to make a list of the top ten fights in NBA history, would Oak be featured in at least three? Yes. Would he be in the number one fight? Yes. Would he save Larry Johnson, another incredibly tough motherfucker? I think you know the answer. (Yes.)

Charles Oakley is so incredibly hard that when I was researching, I was struck by just how much crazy shit he got himself into. I know what you're thinking. "I already know he was a tough rebounder, got into a couple of fights, blah blah, come on now James..." Well, did you know that in 2000, he threw a basketball at Tyrone Hill's head after morning shootaround? You did? Well, did you know it was because Tyrone owed Chuck $54,000 "for a dice game that allegedly took place two summers prior"? As Chuck put it a year later, when Hill made good: "A gentleman repays his debt within a week or two." (Full story on that here)

These days Oak makes his lot at his car wash. To the left is a picture of him getting his hands dirty at "Oakley's Car Wash". It's a fitting shot of the man who set an NBA record by making a record 107 starts in a season (!).

I had wanted to write about how inspiring Charles Oakley was, so on and so
forth, but I think that it would be better to just list his transgressions and let them speak for themselves:

1. In the 2001 Playoffs, Oakley "constantly chided teammate Vince Carter and even exchanged words with Carter's mother. This was rumored to be over Carter letting Oakley and other teammates down during crunch time."

2. Oakley punched Jeff McInnis in the jaw before a game in 2000. Why? "Rumor was that this was over a woman."

3. Oakley got in a fight with the producer of the 1989 video "Awesome Endings". (His other film credits suitably illustrate his personality, playing himself in "Space Jam", "Going Platinum", "New York Undercover" and "Homeless in America." )

4. March 4, 2002 - After a shoving incident with Kenyon Martin, both players were given technicals. Oak again played the role of enforcer- Martin earlier had gotten a flagrant foul for forearming Eddy Curry. "I just try to go out and play; I don't play to hurt no one," Oakley said of the incident.

5. April 5, 2002- During the 98-96 loss to the Raptors, with 9:45 left in the game Oakley was booed by the United Center crowd after missing a jumper. He waved his arms to encourage the jeering and the fans reciprocated."They buy their tickets, that's part of the game," Oakley said. "They're going to be booing for a long time, trust me. I ain't the problem. They can boo until they win another championship. Half of them might be dead. Put that in the paper."

6. On the Allan Houston-era Knicks: "They've got some garbage. Point-blank. They need to take four or five players out with the trash and dump them. You can't have a bunch of guys who are 6-5 and 6-6. I know the fans in New York. You can't fake out New Yorkers ... that you're going to get the job done. You've got to get to the playoffs, first round, second round."

"They're a max-out team. They've got the top salaries in the league. There's no excuses. It's bad management and bad deals. It's hard to recoup in this league. You've got to have trade bait."

8. On the Wizards' rookies, while he played with Jordan:
"We've got some sensitive young guys,'' he said. "Nowadays, these young guys, anytime you say something, you're picking on them. Back in the day, half of these guys wouldn't get in the league.

"They've just given them more avenues, they've given them everything, and they don't have anything to look forward to, so when you want them to do something that's tough, they can't do it. The league is just like daycare.''

9. On a fight with PJ Brown a few days later (which would be more appropriately termed Brown-Oakley II): "We do what we go to. You got to fight . . . that's part of leadership. Didn't nobody bleed. Things happen, the game kept going and they won. He came on my back, he tried to run to the basket, he was mouthing off a couple times before that. He came around my back, I blocked him out, he grabbed me and I got him up off me."

10. Charles said of his "beautiful" prom date, "Someone had to take her."

I think Bill Simmons put it best in an article he wrote some time ago:

"One of the networks needs to have a 'Coolest guy on the planet' contest because Oakley would absolutely win. You know those 'Road House' scenes in which Swayze just stands in the bar, surveying the scene with a thin smile on his face, barely moving a fingernail and meanwhile, 10 drunk guys are brawling a few feet away from him? That's what Oakley is like. You could hire some extras to play gang members at one of these parties, then have them fire blanks at each other 10 feet from Oakley and I'm not even sure he would flinch. The great thing about him: He served as MJ's enforcer in Chicago, and now they're both retired ... and from what I could tell, he's still Jordan's enforcer. Could there be a greater tribute in life to someone's kickassability than Michael Jordan himself deciding, 'You know what? I need to make sure he's still on my side. I don't care if we're in our 40s.'

Personally, I think Oak could do more. Why couldn't he become the next great action hero? He's got the looks, the size, the swagger ... at the very least, he could mumble through his lines and become the black Steven Seagal. For God's sake, everyone in the league is still afraid of him, personified by the one-sided Tyrone Hill/Oakley and Jeff McInnis/Oakley feuds, as well as the famous story of Oak slapping Barkley hard across the face during a '99 lockout players-only meeting, which became his signature "Here's why you don't mess with Oakley" moment.

Anyway, on Thursday night, I asked one relatively famous current player who knows him, 'What makes Oakley more intimidating than everyone else?'

His answer: 'There's a lotta tough guys in the league, but Oak don't give a f---.'"

To me, that right there says it. Oak don't give a fuck. I wouldn't even want to play golf with the guy.

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