The moment when Dolan broke free of his father's shadow and started to be viewed as an independent businessman is often overlooked by NBA fans, if they remember it at all. That moment came in late 2004, when Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, overruled his father, Charles, over the fledgling satellite TV venture known as Voom.
Charles, who founded Cablevision and was one of the original businessmen who helped define what, exactly, "cable television" was in its early days, thought satellite TV was the wave of the future. Jim Dolan felt the potentially worldwide reach the company would gain did not justify the expense. Time has yet to determine which one was right, but it is clear that the younger Dolan won the fight at Cablevision.
Since then, fewer observers still characterize Dolan as the wealthy, wayward son who dealt with substance abuse issues early in his life and got by on daddy's dime. The now-unquestioned head of Cablevision, Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks was forced to break with the man he admired most for business principles he felt were the best for the company.
We bring this up because Dolan suddenly seems to be having a crisis of moral indignation. He is upset, according to ESPN New York, the New York Daily News and other Big Apple news outlets, that restricted free agent point guard Jeremy Lin had to gall to go out and look for a fair contract. Dolan apparently wants to know: Where is the loyalty from the undrafted Harvard grad who was cut by three teams before the Knicks finally gave him a chance last season? And as Knicks fans have learned during Dolan's time in control of their team, few people hold a grudge like him.
The Knicks therefore are poised not to match the Houston Rockets' three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet, according to reports, as much for financial concerns as for personal resentment. Dolan wants Lin, his former employee, to get in line with the boss's directive and be grateful for the opportunity.
Let us first establish that Lin owes the Knicks something, but not everything. The only reason Lin got any playing time on that fateful Feb. 4 was that the team was set to release him and wanted to make sure, after playing him a grand total of 47 minutes all season up to that point, that the kid really could not play. The credit for seizing that opportunity with 25 points against the Nets to begin one of the most improbable Cinderella stories in NBA history goes to Lin, not to the Knicks. The organization did not seem to view loyalty as much of a priority when it fired coach Mike D'Antoni, the man who had given Lin that opportunity, before the end of the regular season.
Do not be swayed, either, by the recent spin planted by the Knicks, that the $14 million due to Lin in the third year of his offered deal would put them in luxury tax danger in 2014-15. By declining to match, according to this version of the story, the Knicks simply would be exercising shrewd judgment. Just four players — Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, plus Lin — would account for some $75 million in three years, just below where many anticipate the luxury tax line sitting by then. But the Knicks created this dilemma by failing to offer Lin a reasonable contract the moment he was eligible for free agency. By delaying, they allowed the Rockets to make the so-called "ridiculous" offer that strategically included that $14 million third year to dissuade the Knicks from matching.
Most of all, though, Dolan is not Lin's dad. If anyone should understand that sometimes business trumps loyalty, it is Dolan. Some may disagree how substantial an impact Dolan had on Lin, but there is no disagreement (not even by Dolan, judging by his few public comments on the Voom dispute) how substantial an impact Charles Dolan had on his son. Dolan's decision on Voom did not mean that he was an ungrateful son, just as Lin signing Houston's offer sheet does not mean he is an ungrateful employee.
Dolan may not have gone to Harvard Business School, but he has been in the game long enough to recognize that oftentimes, business is just business.