Hey James Dolan: Quit Your Job
2:19 PM EDT on September 21, 2023
My brother, who's a genius, told me long ago there are two kinds of people: "People who hate their job, and people with new jobs." James Dolan is the first kind. For now.
Dolan told the New York Times as much in a long and fine story that ran Wednesday, by Metro reporter Katherine Rosman. Dolan confessed he doesn’t love owning sports teams and doesn't even like fans of the teams he owns. Dolan doesn’t like the media much either. But with his new Sphere, which is some sort of highfalutin Vegas entertainment venue that, according to the Times, is set to open ”two years late and $1 billion over budget,” he relaxed his standards.
I find Dolan fascinating as heck, and I loved the Times piece. It reminded me a lot of the desperate attempts at image rehab by another sports owner I’ve obsessed over, Dan Snyder, which reliably used to show up in D.C. media at the brink of every new and ultimately disappointing Commanders season back when he owned the team. The Dolan opus had lots of the same sort of really-he’s-just-misunderstood quotes from folks who are or were on the owner’s payroll. Rangers vet Henrik Lundqvist was lumped in with a gang of guys who played for Dolan and now, according to the story, “consider him among the most generous in the league.”
“I saw someone who was fully committed to being sure that we had the best resources and opportunities to succeed,” Lundqvist told the Times.
There were also the same kind of naive quotes Snyder used to make, in which Dolan flaunted how out of touch he is with every other living non-despot human being the world over. Dolan has been universally vilified for weaponizing facial recognition technology to go after personal enemies who try to attend events at the venues he owns (including Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall). Yet he bragged to the Times about how his gizmos let him “trace” any person in the building “from camera to camera to camera to camera,” as if we would all think it's cool that he's devised a state-of-the-art scheme to violate our civil liberties.
There was even a tale of how Dolan let an employee use his private jet when her family was in a pinch–in this case a J.D. & the Straight Shot bandmate who needed to bring a nanny on tour. Private-jet largesse was another staple of the Snyder evergreens meant to make the owner appear as human as the rest of us, only with billions more dollars.
The overall gist of the Times piece, however, was that Dolan doesn’t get any pleasure out of being an owner. He said he’s bored with the sports business duties, and didn’t hide how he despises his customers at least as much as he does journalists.
“Basically every fan thinks of themselves as the owner/general manager,” Dolan said. He also told Rosman that being an owner in NYC means accepting that “you’re not beloved until you’re dead.” And, the straightest shot from JD: “I don’t really like owning teams.”
So ... Dolan is sick of his day job?
Hell, lots of us at Defector coulda told you that. Because, well, Dolan himself told us exactly that a couple times back at our former workplace. I had hung out with Dolan in D.C. for a story back in 2016 when his rock band was on tour serving as the opening act for Jewel. He was far more fun to be around than I ever would have guessed, and gave all sorts of indications that rock-and-rolling for next to no money—one D.C. promoter guesstimated an opening act slot like the one Dolan was playing could pay as little as $250 per show, which wouldn’t even cover the band’s soufflé bill that night—made him much happier than running a pair of multibillion-dollar teams, the New York Rangers and Knicks.
He got his phone out at one point late in the evening backstage after his Lincoln Theatre gig and made a point of showing me that it was the first time he’d checked sports scores all night, even though the Rangers were playing the Islanders. I came away sure as heck the guy would get more joy from busking with a guitar in subway stations than he did from running two sports franchises.
Later that same year he once again expressed the same sentiment to us—lyrically, in fact. He wrote a song specifically at Deadspin’s request for a goofy awards show we were doing. He put lots of time and thought into the ditty, and clearly had fun.
The song’s opening stanza was an ear-opener for sure:
You know I own a basketball team /
For most people that would be a dream /
For a trust fund kid, it’s a living hell /
Always some asshole telling me to sell.
This was in a song for an awards show, so we weren’t sure how literally to take Dolan’s woe-is-meisms at the time. But when I read Dolan giving off the same ownership-loathing and fan-hating vibes, I was immediately taken back to Oprah and Maya Angelou lying in a big bed in cozy pajamas, talking about the poet laureat’s Hallmarkiest aphorism: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” OK, OK! I believe! I believe!
We eventually had a falling-out, over Dolan's doing shitty things and us reporting them, but the song episode was, no fooling, lots of fun for us. There were signs the whole experience brought Dolan some rare glee, too: We were told not long after the awards gig that he was wearing a Deadspin shirt in his workplace.
From the sound of things, he could really use a “Quit Your Job” tee about now. Check your mailbox, J.D.