(The Garden’s Steve Mills, flanked by several employees who were all sacked for having Mushnick’s number in their cell phones)

If we’re to believe what we read, here’s how it works at the World’s Most Dysfunctional Arena : blow Stephon Marbury in an SUV, get a promotion. Receive praise from the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick, however, and your career is in peril.

Three times in the last six months, I’ve tried to write something – in one case, an entire column – noting a proud achievement or happy occasion in a different Garden employee’s professional or personal life.And every time, that person was initially pleased. Who wouldn’t enjoy ink suitable for the family scrapbook?

But on all three occasions, all three of those people changed their minds. They eventually begged me not to write it, begged me to forget all about it, insisted that I keep my good regard for each of them to myself.

Why? Such a request normally would make no sense. After all, since Jimmy Dolan’s MSG reign began – when good people began to be beaten down and then out, and MSG Network was reduced to a pathetic, Soviet-bloc-like joke – The Garden has gotten rotten ink. Even Dolan has complained about the steady abuse he and The Garden receive in the local papers.

So why would Garden folks beg to prevent good ink? The answer lies in the question – Dolan (Newman!). Dolan has invited and received such a steady beating in the press that a display of what he could perceive to be a cordial or respectful relationship between his employees and one of his critics could be viewed by him with great suspicion. And worse.

Such might be considered an act of disloyalty, treason, sedition; it might even get that employee fired. That’s the mindset – the working conditions, the just-survive thought process – at Dolan’s Garden.

If Dolan were to read something nice about one of his Garden employees in this column, these embarrassed, exasperated people further explained, they could be viewed as “leaks.”

Leaks? Imagine. As if one needs inside sources to see what Dolan has done to The Garden. One needs a leak to know it’s raining?

Regardless,” came the composite reply, “please don’t write anything nice about me. That could infuriate him, get me fired.” They hoped I’d understand. I do.

Hopefully, Phil also understands that by writing this column, he’s jeopardized the livelihood of every Garden employee he’s ever graced with favorable press. Still, I’m gonna show some solidarity with Mushnick on this rare occasion ; I pledge not to write anything nice about Jerome James this year, just because I don’t want him to get in trouble.