On This Date: Knicks hire Pat Riley

May 31st 1991: Knicks hire Pat Riley as the next head coach

In one of the most monumental moments in Knicks’ franchise history, the Knicks hired Pat Riley as the next head coach of the franchise. Riley spent the previous year as a NBA commentator on NBA on NBC before receiving an offer to coach the Knicks shortly before the 1991 NBA Finals.

After John MacLeod left the Knicks at the end of the 1990-91 season, team president Dave Checketts contacted Riley about interest in returning to coaching. Riley looked at the prestige of coaching and the history of the Knicks and found the situation to be perfect for him. The team agreed to a contract that paid Riley around $1.5 million/year over the next 5 seasons.

In contrast to the Showtime era of the Los Angeles Lakers, Riley instilled a culture of tough defense and grittiness that embodied the team and the fan base throughout the 1990s. His philosophy helped cultivate into a decade of playoff berths, even extending beyond his tenure. The climax of his Knicks tenure was reaching the NBA Finals in 1994. One of his final remnants of his Knicks legacy was having Jeff Van Gundy alongside him as an assistant coach. Van Gundy was previously an assistant coach dating back to the Stu Jackson era. Van Gundy remained assistant coach until 1996 where he was promoted after the team fired Don Nelson. Van Gundy also replicated the defensive principles and mentality instilled by Riley in his tenure.

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