The game was just a few minutes old when James Dolan waddled out to his courtside seat, towered over by the “fans” around him. Latrell Sprewell walked in front of him, Bernard King and Vin Baker behind him. All that was missing was for the former players to covered in flashing neon lights beckoning the crowd to look here, and ignore everything else your mind is telling you.

Sprewell was persona non grata at Madison Square Garden since he was traded away in 2003 and returned two days before Christmas that year, scoring 31 points and punctuating them by running toward Dolan and screaming taunts and curses at him. But in an amazing coincidence, just days after Dolan had Charles Oakley dragged out of the arena Sprewell took a seat next to Dolan.

After the ugly episode with Oakley, banning him from the Garden, Dolan and his PR crew filled the seats with former Knicks to act as human shields - Sprewell, Baker, King, Larry Johnson, Kenny Walker, Gerald Wilkens, Herb Williams, John Wallace and Bill Bradley. As a counter, Spike Lee sat courtside with an Oakley jersey draped over his diminutive frame.

The transparent effort to prove Dolan can play nice with former Knicks — although almost every one of these players preceded his arrival as Garden chairman — couldn’t cover up the ugliness that surrounds the franchise. The forced attempt at a show of solidarity actually overshadowed the Knicks playing one of their best games of the season and escaping with a 94-90 win over the Spurs, just their seventh win in their last 27 games.

“Well, I can’t tell you why I haven’t been back here, but I’ll tell you when I left, I was not happy,” Sprewell said in an interview on the ABC broadcast. “New York is like a second home for me. I love the fans here. The fans have embraced me. There’s no place like the Garden to play in. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play in the Garden? I was definitely disappointed.”

When Sprewell was traded, Dolan said that he didn’t have the character to be part of the Knicks. His behavior that day in 2003 drew the ire of the owner, who told reporters back then, “Somebody said to me he proved me right, that he doesn’t belong on our team,” — and the attention of the NBA, Spewell’s arrival now came with the Knicks in free fall, on and off the court. The Oakley spectacle was a distraction from the bizarre efforts of Knicks’ president Phil Jackson to prod Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause ahead of the Feb. 23 deadline.