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Keith Strudler: Paging Dale Carnegie

Who says the art of writing letters is dead? Not New York Knicks owner James Dolan. This past week, he showed his skill set by publishing a caustic, scathing note to longtime Knicks fan Irving Bierman. Dolan was responding to Bierman’s initial message to the team owner, where Bierman implored Dolan to sell the team because he had essentially destroyed the franchise after taking it from his father. Bierman was fairly specific in his critiques, including Dolan’s handling of former coach and GM Isiah Thomas and his inability to hire Steve Kerr.

Dolan held no punches in his reply. Among other things, he said Bierman is has likely never done anything nice for anyone and probably has no friends. Oh, and he insinuated he's probably an alcoholic. Then he told him to go ahead and start rooting for the crosstown Brooklyn Nets, because the Knicks don't want him. And that is the New York's version of personalized service. An email from the owner accusing you of substance abuse and telling you to go home. Ladies and gentleman, your New York Knicks.

Now technically, this wasn't a letter in the traditional sense. It was an email exchange, which is about as close as you'll get to a handwritten note in the age of twitter and Instagram. And that exchange went remarkably public in the instant digital age. This kind of interaction was fairly limited in generations past. For a sports fan, it's far easier to contact a team owner, or player for that matter, than ever before. What once felt distant is now only a few clicks away. That makes it far easier, and perhaps seemingly anonymous to voice your somewhat salty opinions than when it required stationary and a trip to the post office to script a note that likely never made it past the secretary's office. If you've always wanted to send a nasty note to your least favorite sports manager, these are truly your salad days.

Dolan isn't the only owner that's taken public heat this week. Former NBA superstar Magic Johnson lambasted Jim Buss, part of the family ownership group of the LA Lakers and son of former owner Jerry Buss, for his perceived mismanagement of the team. Jim has said nothing in  response, although his coach Byron Scott -- one of Magic's former teammates -- has publicly supported the younger Buss. Of course, it's much more difficult to scathe one of the greatest players in league history than some retired fan in South Carolina. But either way, it's clear that owners are far less hidden than before.

Particularly in the case of James Dolan, most fans and journalists have slammed the owner for remarkably poor judgement, something he's accused of pretty much every day in job. I'd agree that hardly anything good can come from a billionaire owner taking personal shots at an average joe, even if joe started it. I don't care if owners are just people, and they get hurt just like everyone else. The price of ownership in professional sports, besides a billion dollars, is that you respect the trust of your fans, in good times and bad. As the saying goes in retail, the customer is always right. And professional sports is very much a B to C operation. So it doesn't matter if Steve Kerr was never going come to New York, you can't tell a fan, a customer to root for the Nets just like you don't tell a United frequent flier to switch to Delta. And if you don't like that, then sell the team -- which seems like what Irving Bierman wanted in the first case.

But two interesting points came from these two cases. First, in the day of daily fantasy sports and big data, everyone's a sports expert now. What Bierman wants Jim Dolan to do is the same thing he can do in dozens of online fantasy sports games, where you get to literally be an owner. Of a fictionalized team, of course, but an owner none-the-less. So this sense of expertise is increasingly apparent, if not almost encouraged and innate in young sports fans raised on mobile platforms.

And second, it's funny how being born rich has become a social pockmark. Both Dolan and Jim Buss were critique for falling far from the tree. According to Bierman and Magic Johnson, these new owners were born on third base yet can't get past first. It's a critique you wouldn't hear of other owners, perhaps a Mark Cuban who earned his fortune in technology before buying the Dallas Mavericks. It might be nice to be born wealthy and inherit a professional sports team. But it's not endearing. Perhaps James Dolan should consider that before the next time he hits reply.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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