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The Last Enforcer: Charles Oakley has plenty to say about the NBA

Charles Oakley made a career out of speaking his mind and backing it up. So the retired power forward has plenty to share in his new book "The Last Enforcer.
Former New York Knicks player Charles Oakley waits for an NBA basketball game between the Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Cleveland. Charles Oakley made a career out of speaking his mind and backing it up. So he has plenty to share in his new book "The Last Enforcer."  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tony Dejak

Charles Oakley made a career out of speaking his mind and backing it up. So the retired power forward has plenty to share in his new book "The Last Enforcer."

Described as "outrageous stories from the life and time of one of the NBA's fiercest competitors," the book details Oakley's 19-year career with the Chicago Bulls (twice), New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets.

"I think people want to hear stories like this … I've been watching TV all the time and (wondering) 'How can five guys have the same answer every question?'" Oakley said in an interview.

The 58-year-old Cleveland native has a fondness for the NBA of the 1980s and '90s, so is happy to share his memories. 

A hard man who left a mark, the six-foot-eight 225-pound Oakley finished his career with 13,650 rebounds and 13,967 points in regular-season and playoff action. Over 1,282 regular-season games, he averaged 9.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game.

Oakley describes his role in the NBA as that of a butler in a mansion.

"I did the dirty work. I cleaned up and made sure everything was all right," he writes.

His teammates appreciated Oakley having their back, which explains Michael Jordan providing the foreword to the book.

"Simply put — you did not mess with Oak," Jordan writes.

Oakley is clear about how he would fare in today's game, with its emphasis on three-point shooting and spacing, not to mention its lack of physicality. 

"I think it would be easier for me," he said. 

Today's players would have a tougher time in the his era, Oakley contends.

"I think that 20 per cent of today's guys would be tough enough to play in our era," he writes in the book. "Maybe not even that many."

"Guys were hungrier back when I played," he adds.

Oakley has his list of villains with Knicks owner James Dolan, Charles Barkley and Tyrone Hill high among them. And Oakley does not mince words.

Chapter 13, for example, is titled "Barkley and His Big Mouth."

Oakley had a well-publicized feud with Hill, then with the Philadelphia 76ers, over an unpaid debt. And in 2017, he was ejected at Madison Square Garden — putting an ugly face on his beef with Dolan.

"The last place you expect to be treated like a criminal is at Madison Square Garden," writes Oakley, who spent 10 seasons there as a Knick. "But this is a different Madison Square Garden from my days, a different Knicks team, and a different owner."

His relationship with the Knicks remains rocky, which Oakley calls sad. 

"He don't treat people right," Oakley said of Dolan.

Oakley is lukewarm on Knicks icon Patrick Ewing, isn't a fan of Dennis Rodman, and says the league had a "serious drug problem" in the '80s.

The Knicks traded Oakley along with Sean Marks and cash to the Raptors for Marcus Camby in June 1998. Lacking the proper paperwork, he was turned away by border guards when he tried to cross the border in January 1999 to resume play after the lockout.

But he says he grew to love Canada.

"I had a great time. The first time I got there, I didn't know too much abut it … But once I got there, the people around me were just so nice. The fans were great. The city's got good food. It's clean."

Oakley speaks appreciatively about former Raptors teammate Vince Carter. But he makes it clear he disagreed with Carter's decision to attend his graduation at North Carolina on the day of Game 7 of a playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers in May 2001. Thanks to a private jet, Carter made it back in time for the game but the Raptors lost 88-87.

"As I said at the time, Vince is still our brother," Oakey writes. "It was important to him and his life. He made the right decision for him, but it wasn't a team decision."

Open about his thoughts on the coaches he had during his career, Oakley also has little good to say about former Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens.

While Wilkens was recently named one of the "15 Greatest Coaches in NBA History" as part of the league's 75th anniversary celebrations, Oakley says he believes Wilkins was "on vacation" in Toronto.

"His battery was so low he couldn't jump a car."

Oakley believes comments he made about Carter and Wilkens in that playoff run upset Raptors management and prompted his trade to Chicago in July 2001.

After a season with the Bulls, another with the Wizards and a short stay with Houston, a 40-year-old Oakley called it quits in 2004.

"I felt it was time to move on," he writes. "I didn't have any regrets. That chapter in my life was over."

These days, Oakley has plenty on the go.

He has his own charitable foundation helping inner-city kids and shelters.

"Some people say they have a big heart but don't do nothing. But my heart is getting bigger and bigger as my life goes on because I'm doing more and more," he said.

And he is looking forward to Season 2 of his cooking show, "Chopping It Up With Oakley," crediting mother Corine for his love of cooking.

His grandfather, Julius Moss, also comes in for special praise in the book. "He just made the whole family go," said Oakley, who has a degree in business administration from Virginia Union University.

In 2020, he appeared on Season 29 of "Dancing with the Stars." He and professional dance partner Emma Slater were the first to be sent home, the victim of an unappreciated cha-cha.

Oakley ends the book with six pages of thank you's in an acknowledgments section, including another tip of the cap to Canada.

"I know basketball wasn't a thing when I first got there but you see what can happen when you build something."

"The Last Enforcer," by Charles Oakley with Frank Isola. Gallery Books, 265 pages, $38.99.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press