When you're president and CEO of Madison Square Garden, you make a lot of decisions. Some are extremely popular, like staging the Radio City Christmas Spectacular or signing Patrick Ewing to a multi-year contract. In those cases, you're pretty much, as they say in New York, king of the hill, top of the heap.
There are other decisions, though, that aren't quite so popular. For example, a little over a month ago, Dave Checketts, the former Jazz president, announced he was rehiring Marv Albert to do radio play-by-play of Knicks games and anchor a nightly TV sports show. Checketts was soon in a controversy that had the Bountiful native wondering what he did to qualify as a bonafide lowlife, once removed.Checketts isn't the first person you'd expect to be siding with Albert. This is a guy whose background is about as low-key conservative as it gets: Utah-raised, religious, attended BYU; a guy who, if given a choice, would probably rather not find an employee accused of biting his former girlfriend repeatedly on the back. That's the kind of publicity Checketts and MSG could live without. In particular, it's the kind of publicity Albert could live without, too.
To see Checketts rehiring Albert was a shock to many. Checketts is a squeaky-clean, former LDS bishop whose idea of getting crazy involves ordering chile rellenos. He's a pillar of the community - which, in the case of New York, makes up a very large community. He's involved in numerous charities, including MSG Cheering for Children Foundation and juvenile diabetes. He participates in programs for prevention of child abuse, pediatric aids and a midnight basketball league for youth. He initiated a program to get guns off the street, exchanging them for tickets to events at the Garden. He received the first-ever Corporate Hero Award from the Association for the Help of Retarded Children.
The man's 41 years old and still acting like an Eagle Scout.
So why would HE hire HIM?
Though polls showed after he re-hired Albert that more than 90 percent of New Yorkers favored the decision, it didn't play well in Peoria. It seems hiring someone guilty of disgusting behavior doesn't draw much sympathy west of the Hudson. He could have hired Fat Albert and caught less flack. Until Swingin' Bill Clinton came along and diverted everyone's attention, Albert was the most reviled character this side of Hannibal Lecter. He kept the television tabloids in stories for weeks. A respected, well-known broadcaster had morphed into a first-rate sex scandal. People who wouldn't know Marv Albert from Marvin Gaye were suddenly interested. Eventually, Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery and was ushered off to a life of therapy and shame. His trademark exclamation (Yessssss!) became a punch line.
Then, just under a year after the news broke, Albert got part of his old job back. He'll now call radio games and anchor a show called "MSG Sportsdesk."
Meanwhile, Checketts gets to deal with the fallout. When he came west for reunions at Sun Valley and Bear Lake, and spent a few days in Salt Lake, relatives and friends demanded to know what he was thinking. Their suspicions that life in New York had warped his sense of right and wrong seemed confirmed. One said, "You're the guy that hired the convicted rapist, right?" Though Albert was never convicted of rape, the perception remained.
But after being publicly humiliated and receiving therapy, Albert said he was ready to return, and Checketts agreed. He figured on a professional level, it was a good move; Albert is a legendary broadcast figure. Checketts had regularly visited with him, checking with therapists to see how the progress was going. In July he declared the waiting period over, taking into account that Albert's 30 years in the field should count for something.
"I said to the New York writers that I'm not perfect and neither is he. This guy made some mistakes. I, for one, am not going to condemn him," said Checketts.
He added: "I really believe there is a certain way of behaving and a set of morals we should use, and I have those expectation of others, but I also believe in second chances."
So when the time came to make a move, Checketts made it a New York move - not necessarily popular but undeniably big. He forgave Albert. Getting himself forgiven may take even longer.