After playing three seasons with the Bulls, Charles Oakley was traded to the Knicks. What followed was an epic rivalry between New York and Oak’s former team in Chicago, with Michael Jordan being the focal point of Oakley’s defensive efforts. And Charles didn’t spare him – not by a long shot.
Now is it really a rivalry when one team comes out on top in six out of seven playoff series, with their only loss being the series played without MJ? Trust me, it was. Box scores may not show it, but what was happening on the floor was a straight-up war.
Oak was a defensive general of one belligerent, and his primary mission was to stop his former teammate in Michael Jordan. Judging by the Knicks’ 1-6 playoff record against Chicago, Oak didn’t do a great job in stopping him. But it wasn’t for the lack of trying. It was simply a case of MJ being too good of an opponent.
Regardless of MJ being his former teammate and friend, Oakley’s mindset was the same – protect what was his. And what was his was the paint, with Michael being the intruder not welcome there. It was a mindset Oak held to throughout his whole NBA career, with no one being an exception, not even Jordan. Well, especially not Jordan.
You come to the paint, I mean that’s my job. His job is outside; mine’s the paint. Some people buy a lot of real estates, some people have little real estate. That little paint is my real estate; outside he can have all that real estate. He knew the rules. It wasn’t like anybody tried to hurt him, but when you come inside, we gotta let you know. You come in my territory now, and I gotta let you know, it’s still the same way, you gotta pay the toll.Charles Oakley, DJ Vlad
The ability to separate personal from professional is something every player has to have. Especially when being a part of a landscape such as the NBA, where you’re more than likely to play for different organizations. In such transitions, you’re going to share a locker room with many different faces. Now tell me, if all former teammates would’ve gotten along, how would the competitive environment such as the NBA survive? Let me tell you right away, it wouldn’t. The product quality would’ve plummeted.
That’s why guys like Oakley are great for. There’s no sugar coating with such characters. No selective approaches for their acquaintances. None of that. It’s all about the game of basketball and finishing the game victorious. Now in Oak’s case, the whole winning the game part was lacking when he faced Jordan. But look at the tape of their 90s rivalry and tell me, would you ever assume the two being former teammates? That’s Charles Oakley for you, and it’s the mindset the NBA needs more of.