NEW YORK -- There are a lot of ways to maybe -- maybe -- put a lighter touch on the nasty email response that Knicks owner James Dolan sent to the fan who wrote Dolan a critical letter because he was upset with Dolan's hapless stewardship of the team.
But NBA commissioner Adam Silver's flip-sounding explanation of his own decision Monday to forgo punishing or fining Dolan was a thudding failure. It only created further embarrassment for the league that brings its All-Star Game to town this week.
Even the NFL's Roger Goodell -- a man who's not exactly setting the world on fire with his Solomon-like rendering of discipline -- fined ex-Jets coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Geno Smith in the past for making obscene gestures at fans who heckled them.
But welcome to Silver's NBA, where an exemplary player like the Clippers' Chris Paul can get fined $25,000 for a comparatively tepid postgame remark suggesting the rookie female ref who gave him a technical foul might not be cut out for the league. But an NBA owner can basically slander one of his paying customers, as Dolan did -- calling 73-year-old fan Irving Bierman "sad," a probable "alcoholic" and a source of misery to his family, among other things -- and still rest easy knowing his commissioner has his back.
"Jim is a consummate New Yorker," Silver explained to the New York Post's Tim Bontemps on Monday. "Jim got an unkind email and responded with an unkind email."
And that's OK?
If Silver considers Dolan a "consummate New Yorker," New Yorkers should be offended by Silver's caricature of what that means. We're actually not all crass mooks and molls who yell at the top of our lungs, knock over baby strollers to get a subway seat, chew with our mouths open and flip each other off over the mildest things.
What Silver should have done is fine Dolan six figures just for general stupidity and the crimes against grammar in his email.
Instead of making a lame joke about how crudely New Yorkers behave or suggesting the NBA officially endorses matching "unkindness" with unkindness -- no blood, no foul, bro -- Silver could have used this incident as an opportunity. Why not publicly encourage more polite discourse among people, not less -- especially people who share the same deep passion, like wishing the Knicks were a bigger success.
For all Dolan's faults, no one can say he doesn't care about the team. And Bierman claims to have rooted for the Knicks since 1952.
"The intention of my email was only as a disgruntled fan," Bierman said when reached by ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley Monday night.
Yet this is the treatment Bierman gets?
"You are a sad person," Dolan wrote to Bierman. "Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am just guessing but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing.
"In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you,'' Dolan added. "You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around."
Dolan closed the email by telling Bierman "start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don't want you."
Bierman did scorch Dolan first in his letter. But I don't fault Bierman for that, or for making Dolan's email response public.
Dolan surely knows that life as a public figure comes with a different set of rules. And Rule No. 1 about being a public figure in the social media age is this: The "send" key is not your friend.
But here's the other thing: Even after Dolan screwed up, neither he nor the Garden apparatchiks and scaredy-cat yes men who surround him, lashing themselves to the mast while they ride out Dolan's constantly shifting moods, had the sense to realize there was still a way to turn this PR fiasco around, and maybe even find some modicum of redemption.
Bigger people with higher stakes than a thin-skinned owner and an upset fan have found a way to shake hands, make peace, maybe even have a few laughs.
Think about how much better this all would have been if Dolan had just publicly apologized to Bierman before Silver's decision, made a self-deprecating joke about himself and invited Bierman to a kiss-and-make-up dinner at, say, Clyde Frazier's restaurant near the Garden.
Dolan could have invited Bierman to shoot the breeze with Phil Jackson, one of the Holzman Knicks.
Hell, if Dolan really wanted to punish Bierman, he could have just given him a lifetime pass to Knicks games.
Dolan instead wrote the dumbest, most ill-advised letter by an NBA owner since Cleveland's Dan Gilbert made the Comic Sans typeface infamous with his childish screed about LeBron James choosing to go to Miami.
Dolan came off in his email as a condescending, let-'em-eat-cake owner who looks down on dupes like Bierman and seems to think there's another fool born every day because, last time Dolan looked, fans keep filling up the Garden season after season no matter how bad his team is.
And Bierman was right in his letter: The 10-42 Knicks are bad. Very bad.
They're on pace for the worst season in franchise history, not just Dolan's 16-year tenure.
They've won just one playoff series in the past 14 years and now Jackson, whose hiring was supposed to be a coup, admitted just last week that his months-old tenure has so far fallen "flat on its face" and he indeed may not stick out his five-year contract (just as skeptics predicted from the start).
But what explains Silver? Until now he's looked like a progressive thinker, and he justifiably earned a lot of raves early in his young commissionership for his handling of the Donald Sterling case.
All of which makes it more baffling that he'd look at Dolan's treatment of Bierman and do ... nothing?
As one of Silver's "consummate" New Yorkers might shout back, "Whadda you, NUTS?"