Charles Oakley talks new book, case against Knicks and potentially fighting NBA legend


Charles Oakley backs down from no one. 

For him, it is second nature. 

In his memoir, “The Last Enforcer,” he says in most of his fights, the opposition starts it and he ends it.

Oakley, who committed the fourth-most personal fouls in NBA history, was known for his physical play throughout his 19-year career and even after. He once busted Julius “Dr. J” Irving’s lip during a retired NBA players’ pickup. Although it was an accident, he doubles down on the fact that he does not “give up layups.” 

Whether he was Michael Jordan’s on-court bodyguard early in his career with the Chicago Bulls, Patrick Ewing’s defensive anchor with the New York Knicks or a veteran presence for a young Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors in the late ’90s, he was counted on and embraced his role as the enforcer.

“When you’re going into a tough situation, it always helps to have some protection, to have someone you can count on by your side, to have your back,” Jordan says about Oakley in the memoir. 


Oakley, 58, came one game shy of winning an NBA championship with the Knicks in 1994, but fell short in a tough seven-game series against the Houston Rockets. Although he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 1998, he was remembered as a beloved Knick for his toughness on the defensive end.  

In 2017 Oakley was arrested and removed from Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game after the team states he behaved in a “highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner.” Oakley was charged with assault and later countered with an ongoing civil lawsuit of his own. Despite the case, Oakley would “love” to see his jersey in the rafters of Madison Square Garden one day.

Charles Barkley attends the 2019 NBA Awards at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019, in Santa Monica, California. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Charles Barkley attends the 2019 NBA Awards at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019, in Santa Monica, California. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)


In a phone interview with Fox News Digital, Oakley speaks to the roots of his fearless reputation as a protector, his altercations with Charles Barkley and how the NBA has changed since his heyday.

Fox News Digital: You begin the book, detailing your run-in with Charles Barkley at the NBA Players Association meeting in 1999. You say you didn’t punch him, but instead you state you “slapped” him. Why start the book with that incident? 

Charles was one of those guys who had a big mouth once he got out the league. When he was in the league, his mouth wasn’t that big. I just had to set the record straight and this book will tell you a lot about me, not just setting the record straight but handling other people in situations too.  

The popularity surrounding celebrity boxing matches has grown and continues to grow. Would you be willing to get in the ring with Charles Barkley for the right price? 

It could be free, Barkley or Shaq. Shaq always said I was number one on his list of guys he wanted to do something with, so this could be his chance. Shaq is a funny guy who has marketed himself into a different space. I give him credit for that, but he doesn’t want to mess with me. 

Charles Oakley attends the holiday gala "A Night with the Stars" at The Westside Warehouse on Dec. 11, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Charles Oakley attends the holiday gala “A Night with the Stars” at The Westside Warehouse on Dec. 11, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

What about Judge Mathis for a celebrity boxing match? 

He’s too small. It’ll be a first-round knockout. I guess it was one of those nights where … you know how it is where people try to put on in front of friends. He turned down the wrong block at nighttime, so he got carjacked. 

You speak about the influence of your grandfather, even mentioning a tale where he knocked out a mule with his bare hands. You even end the book giving him praise and attribute your role as the enforcer to him. What can you say your grandfather taught you when it comes to protecting yourself and others? 

He had eight kids and a big family he had to go and provide for. He had to protect them and not just his own kids but protect the neighborhood as well. He was a workaholic – I got a lot of my work ethic from him. He would give you his hat or shoes or anything you needed and didn’t tolerate any nonsense. I copied his blueprint, so I tried to emphasize his life in the book. 

There’s one story you tell where you were playing in a retired NBA pickup game and fouled Dr. J pretty hard, where it resulted in a busted lip for Dr. J. Of course, everyone is retired and not working out as much as they used to. Was this a Knicks or Bulls flashback? 

No, it wasn’t a flashback. One thing I try to tell people is, when I play, I play the same way. Whether it’s pickup, preseason, no matter what – that’s my mindset. I was playing pickup, so you want to win at all times. In my mind, I always think to not give up an easy layup. It was a freak accident. I wasn’t trying to. … Doc is the Doc. When I was coming up he’d always talk to me, so I know Doc. It was an accident, but I don’t give up layups, so that’s what I told him.  


In 2017, you were removed from Madison Square Garden by MSG security after they were reportedly instructed to do so by (Knicks owner) James Dolan. Your lawsuit against Dolan was recently dismissed. Correct? 

The case is going forward. It’s still in litigation. It’s something unfortunate that happened. In this book, I try to not really go there with that situation. Sometimes things happen and you can’t control it, so I wanted to talk about it for a little bit, but I wanted to express my feelings as a person who has made others better by being around them. With that (incident) it was just a bad situation.  

What actually happened that night? 

I don’t know what happened. I was blindsided just like everybody else was. I was only there for like 10 minutes. But it was something that I can’t really say where it came from – why it was so personal. We know where it came from, but why? That’s what we’re trying to still figure out, but we’ll let the court figure that out. I try to go on with my life and show people I’m a better person than this guy has put me out there to be.  

A similar situation happened to Spike Lee. Have you ever spoken to Spike about that? 

I spoke to Spike. It’s Spike Lee’s business to fight his fight, but I will always back Spike Lee because he backed me when in several situations. We tried to work things out. Spike Lee has gone back to watching games, so I guess everything is good with Spike Lee, but everything is not good with me yet.  

You mention Magic and Isiah Thomas and their habit of being very controlling. What did you see during your time in the league that led you to that conclusion? 

Head coach Charles Oakley of Killer 3's reacts against Trilogy during a Big 3 game in Week Eight at the Orleans Arena on Aug. 21, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Head coach Charles Oakley of Killer 3’s reacts against Trilogy during a Big 3 game in Week Eight at the Orleans Arena on Aug. 21, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(David Becker/Getty Images for BIG3)

Magic Johnson is in a space by himself. What he has done – winning five championship rings and built his brand. Isiah still says stuff about how he was not selected for the (1992 Olympic) Dream Team, so he has to look at himself. If you’re a top five player in the league and no one likes you, then that’s on you. I always hear a lot of people who don’t have good things to say about Isiah. He is sneaky as far as I know. He’s a great player, but he’s still trying to get votes for not being selected for The Dream Team and that was almost 30 years ago. 

Who are you rooting for in today’s NBA after playing for a number of teams? 

“I’m a Knick at heart. They’ve gotten better over the past few years. I just want to see good basketball. New York fans want to see good basketball. It’s their heart. As someone who has played there and watched the games, fans want the team to be back on top. 

James Dolan, the Knicks owner, and Charles Oakley.

James Dolan, the Knicks owner, and Charles Oakley.
(Getty Images/Reuters)


Is it true if the Lakers and Knicks are doing well it’s better for the league? Would you agree? 

It’s a different game now. It used to be Boston and Lakers. The Knicks will never go away because of what it stands for. You have new teams on the rise – Phoenix, Cleveland, Chicago. They’re looking to get back into the conversation of being a good team. 

In the book you quoted that, in today’s NBA, “they fill out the rosters with guys who can’t play.” How come you feel this way? 

Back in our era, you played within the team concept. You weren’t just taking threes. You took the best shot. Analytics say it’s best to take a three than a two. If you watch Milwaukee last year, the guys who scored 50 points were not taking 3 pointers.  

You had a chance to win a championship with the Knicks in 1994 going up against Hakeem Olajuwon. It didn’t pan out. You mention that Patrick Ewing, although he was an All-Star, was not a number one. Why do you feel like a Hall of Fame player was not a number one option? 

He was our number one because he was our best player. If he went to another team, he would have been number two. My point was Patrick (Ewing) got numbers, but numbers should lead to wins and not losses. There were situations in the game where you need something to happen big – that’s when guys like Joe Burrow in Cincinnati or Patrick Mahomes – in football you can count on them. 

Do you think the championship outcome could’ve changed if he had more of an off-the-court relationship with the team? 

To win a championship in this league, you have to go through adversity. Patrick never channeled adversity. If he did, it would’ve allowed the rest of the team to channel it more.  

Although you did not win a championship, you say your career is not defined by that. Did your definition of success change as you progressed through your career? 

When you come into the league, it doesn’t hit you until four, five or six years into your career. You get better, along with hopes that the team you’re on gets better. Then a championship becomes a conversation. If you get lucky, like Magic (Johnson) who won a ring in his first year, but most of the time if you’re a top pick you don’t go to a team that’s built to win a championship.  


What do you think of the Knicks’ future in terms of its ownership? 

In any ownership situation, you have to evaluate and ask why isn’t the team going forward. Sometimes when you’re not getting it right, you have to step down and let someone else get it right. Like when Larry Brown was in Detroit, he inherited the team that Rick Carlisle and won a championship next year.  

You’ve been a coach in Ice Cube’s Big 3 basketball league. What are you looking forward to as the next season approaches? 

We went to a championship before but came up short. Our guys have to realize their strengths and weaknesses.

You mention drug usage in the league when you first got there. You mention that “60 to 70 percent of the guys in the league smoke weed today, although it is a legal substance in 18 states.” 

It was there when I was playing. To each its own. If I saw a guy on my time that was open about it, I’d pull a red flag.  

Did you confront any players if you saw them doing drugs when you played? 

I didn’t see anyone physically doing it. When I came into the league, I couldn’t say anything. Once I grew into a leader, that was my time to speak up and advise them that they’re risking their career.  

Throughout the book, you mention your knack for cooking. What are some of your favorite ingredients to use? 

It depends on what you’re cooking. I’ve done a lot of barbecues. Even when I played in the league, I would invite the guys over to my house. When we traveled, I would always bring sandwiches to the locker room to show leadership. I cook for different charities as well. I picked that up from my mother and grandmother.  

Madison Square Garden in New York.

Madison Square Garden in New York.
(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)


Toronto was your last stop before retiring. When was the last time you were there? 

Before the pandemic I was there. I was also there when they won the championship. I went to three or four of the games, hung out with Drake – they showed me a lot of love.  

How important was that championship to the city of Toronto and do you think Kawahi made the best decision to leave after a year? 

He was a quiet assassin. He put the team on his back and Drake put the city on his back, so they had a one-two punch.  

It’ll be quite some time before we see another player go to another team and win a championship in his first year with the team.  

Brooklyn tried to do it last year, but they had injuries. It can happen though. LeBron will be a free agent this year. It’s not a good look what’s going on in LA, but with a guy like LeBron you always have a chance to win. 


Is there any particular player that excites you right now? I love to watch Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards. 

Ja Morant is coming into his own. He’s taking the league by storm, so we’ll see over the next few years if he’ll be able to sustain that. I’ve known Anthony Edwards since he was in high school. He’s a freak of nature. He could be the next Vince Carter, but he has to stay healthy. The league is looking for the next superstar. They thought it was going to be Zion Williamson, but he’s hurt too. 

As a beloved Knicks legend, do you still have the desire to have your jersey retired despite the current lawsuit? 

It came up, but we never came to a conclusion. I would love for the fans and people in my corner to see my jersey retired one day. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. Like I said, we’re in litigation right now. As of right now, we don’t know. Bernard (King) has been in the Hall of Fame for five years, and his jersey hasn’t been retired. Bernard’s jersey will be retired before my jersey, so when Bernard goes up then you might see mine go up. You never know. 


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