James L. Dolan, 64, has overseen a tumultuous tenure running the New York Knicks. His two decades in charge have been defined by incompetent management, petty behavior, and losing. Despite spending goads of money on high-profile NBA figures, Dolan is a pariah at Madison Square Garden—firmly amongst the most disliked owners in sports.
So how did this volatile blues-rocker ascend to his throne?
In 1977, Gulf and Western Industries purchased control of the Madison Square Garden Company and its holdings, including the Knicks and New York Rangers. In 1989, Gulf+Western became Paramount Communications, which Viacom acquired in 1994 only to offload its MSG properties to Cablevision and ITT Corporation.
Dolan’s father, Charles, was a New York cable mogul who brought Knicks and Rangers games onto cable airwaves in the early 1970s (and started HBO) before founding Cablevision (though he never playing sports). James trained via various gigs in his dad’s company—selling subscriptions and advertising time, launching a sports radio station in Cleveland—before being named CEO in 1995. “Asked why Jim was the son elevated to CEO, Chuck once said, ‘Mostly, it was because no one else wanted it,’” New York Magazine wrote.
In 1997, Cablevision bought out ITT Corp. for $600 million, giving the Dolans full control of the Knicks. Two years later, Dolan became MSG chairman and the day-to-day head honcho of the sports teams and regional sports networks. The Knicks made a surprising run to the NBA Finals that year.
In 2010, Cablevision spun off the Knicks, Rangers, and other assets into the Madison Square Garden Company. Dolan served as CEO of Cablevision until June 2016, when Charles sold it to Altice for $17.7 billion.
Today, Dolan is officially titled as executive chairman and CEO of The Madison Square Garden Company—which includes MSG Sports and MSG Entertainment—and executive chairman of MSG Networks.
The Massapequa native is a lifelong Knicks fan, but his decisions and behavior as owner—besides writing checks—wouldn’t indicate that. Yet, despite Dolan’s poisonous reputation, the Knicks retained their spot atop Forbes’ list of NBA franchise valuations.