We’re doing these on a rotation, and I feel like most of the players that have fallen to me lately have been guys who made their name off toughness and grit over statistical, measurable contribution. Well, here is the mother lode: Charles Oakley, without whom there unequivocally would be no memories of the bad-ass Knicks of the 90’s. That his credentials, on paper, are better than other “effort” players lower on this list – superior rebounding and defense, an automatic 18-foot jumper – almost obfuscates his lasting contribution to the franchise; time spent remembering those things is always better spent remembering just what a rock the Oak man was.
Oakley’s toughness so perpetuated itself that it was less an overt force than an aura that cast an unwavering stain on every game he played. He was the Spartan army of the NBA: didn’t talk much, didn’t have to, rarely crossed but always lethal. If you didn’t know how tough Oak was, you might not even notice it, but if you did, it affected the way you watched every Knicks defensive stand. And the Knicks’ opponents of the era? They all knew. Every single one of them.
To give specific examples from his playing days would almost defeat the purpose – watch any game and you see him…I dunno, presiding over it, I guess would be a good term – so I’ll just note that once his playing days ended, no doubt searching for another adrenaline rush, Oak became quite the gambler and would frequently run with a group that included Michael Jordan. This is a guy whose highest PER in a season was 16.5, in his rookie season, and no one bats an eyelash when they hear his name with Jordan’s – in fact, the more accounts you read of their travails, the more it seems like Oak is the one, well, presiding over the group.
Let’s just say the Dale Davises of the world don’t run with Michael Jordan. There’s something else at play here, something special. If you saw him play, you know exactly what I’m talking about.