June 15th 1995: New York Knicks head coach Pat Riley suddenly resigns via fax
In a stunning moment after a disappointing 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals exit, Pat Riley suddenly resigned via fax as head coach of the New York Knicks. Riley just finished the 4th year of his 5 year contract with the Knicks as he left the team amidst contractual issues.
Riley desired not just a contract extension, but an ownership stake in the team and control in basketball operations. The latter point seemed treacherous with relation to Dave Checketts and Ernie Grunfeld’s roles within the organization. Furthermore, Cablevision & ITT Corporation purchased the Knicks from Viacom shortly before the 1994-95 season. Paramount Communications sold their stake in the Knicks to Viacom shortly before the end of the 1993-94 season. Therefore, there was no chance that Riley could receive any ownership stake.
Supposedly Riley asked for a 5 year extension and $50 million, plus 25% ownership of the Knicks. Clearly that offer was unrealistic. The Knicks supposedly countered with $25 million, but Riley refused the offer. Ultimately, Riley joined the Miami Heat before the 1995-96 season. Riley not only became coach, but also was the president of basketball operations and received an ownership stake in the franchise. The Knicks subsequently filed tampering charges against the Heat and received $1 million and a 1996 1st round pick as compensation. The Knicks drafted Walter McCarty with the 1st round pick.
Riley instantly became the Knicks’ new villain. Signs with “Pat the Rat” and “Benedict Riley” proliferated around MSG whenever the Heat visited the Knicks. Riley was vociferously booed on his return to MSG. This move ultimately began the rivalry between the Heat & Knicks.
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.
December 19th 1995: Pat Riley receives boos in his return to Madison Square Garden as head coach of the Miami Heat
This date marked the official beginning of the Knicks/Heat rivalry on the basketball floor, as Pat Riley aka Benedict Riley aka Pat The Rat returned to MSG with a swarm of boos as the head coach of the Miami Heat.
In the revenge game, the Knicks routed the Heat, sans Alonzo Mourning, 89-70.
Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 18 points and 16 rebounds. Future Knick Kurt Thomas had a double double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
After 4 years as head coach of the Knicks, Riley abruptly resigned via fax after a disappointing 1994-95 season where the team lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers.
Riley longed for control of basketball operations and a small ownership stake. ITT Inc. bought the Knicks in 1995 are had no intentions to relinquish ownership to Riley. Additionally, neither Dave Checketts or Ernie Grunfeld were in danger to lose their job to Riley.
Riley supposedly wanted a contract of 5 years, $50 million and a 25% stake in the franchise. Checketts countered with a 5 year $15 million deal. Therefore, Riley decided to immediately resign.
The Miami Heat signed Riley to a 5 year $15 million contract, but gave him a 10% stake in the franchise and the additional role of president of basketball operations. The Knicks accused the Heat of tampering and received $1 million and the 1996 Heat 1st round pick as compensation. The Knicks drafted Walter McCarty with the pick.
November 5th 1991: Pat Riley wins his first game as Knicks head coach and Knicks City Dancers make their debut.
The Knicks won their first game of the season, fittingly, at Madison Square Garden by routing the Milwaukee Bucks 113-85. This game marked the first win of the Pat Riley era after being blown out for the first two games of the season. Newly acquired Xavier McDaniel led the team with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Mark Jackson led the team with 9 assists and scored 16 points. Patrick Ewing scored 24 points and blocked 3 shots in 34 minutes.
After ending the 1st half only up by 1, the Knicks went on a 40-13 run in the 3rd quarter to blow the game open. Mark Jackson assisted in the run with three steals during the run that led to transition layups for the Knicks. The win broke a 6 game losing streak against the Bucks.
The game encompassed the the evolution of Pat Riley’s coaching philosophy. While his Los Angeles Lakers’ embodied the fast-paced Showtime era during the 1980s, Riley instituted a philosophy built around tenacious Ewing. For Riley, having Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, & Xavier McDaniels man the frontcourt helped quickly foster the identity on the floor.
The game also marked the debut of the Knicks City Dancers (KCD). The KCD was formed due to the efforts of Pamela Harris, who joined the Knicks as director of marketing in 1991 under then-president Dave Checketts. Harris was part of a team with Checketts that coincided with the MSG renovations in the summer of 1991. Harris considered the KCD as a way to improve entertainment for fans, allow better connection between the fans and organization, and also provide additional revenue streams for the team.
The KCD debuted at Madison Square Garden during the game. The KCD eventually became a more tamer, but equally prominent equivalent of the Laker Girls and has been a success for the organization since inception. Harris’ team were also behind creative various new events with the Knicks, but was equally responsible for overseeing the creation of the “Go NY Go NY Go” theme song of the 1993-94 season.