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Another NBA Title for Pat Riley’s Miami Heat Reopens Old Wounds for New York Knicks Fans

What If the Knicks’ Ex-Coach Stayed in the Big Apple Over Bolting for South Beach?

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Another NBA Title for Pat Riley’s Miami Heat Reopens Old Wounds for New York Knicks Fans
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Another NBA Title for Pat Riley’s Miami Heat Reopens Old Wounds for New York Knicks Fans

COMMENTARY | For obvious reasons, seeing the Miami Heat win a second consecutive NBA title may not be as painful for New York Knicks supporters as it was for Cleveland Cavaliers fans.

But Knicks fans have their own misery to endure each time they witness their old head coach Pat Riley win another league championship in Miami, as the Heat did on Thursday night (June 20).

Before Riley Returned the Knicks to Prominence…

After guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to four league titles and seven NBA Finals appearances in a span of eight years, the Hall of Famer drastically and successfully adapted his style during a four-year stint in New York which included Riley's NBA Coach of the Year award during his second season as a Knicks head coach.

Quite effectively, Riley changed his coaching philosophies from the "Showtime" Lakers to just the opposite with the Knicks, who lived on a bruising defense and rebounding.

Under those ideals, New York went from a losing team during the 1990-91 season to enjoying four straight 50-win campaigns and 60 regular season victories (in 1992-1993) for only the second time in its long history while reaching the NBA Finals (one year later) for one of only two times in the team's past 40 seasons.

He Left New York as "Pat the Rat"

However, after failing to get farther than the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1995, Riley unceremoniously faxed his resignation to the Knicks to become the Heat's head coach with a year still remaining on his New York contract.

The move dubbed Riley as "Pat the Rat" and caused the coach who was once beloved by Knicks fans to receive boos at Madison Square Garden long thereafter.

Accused of tampering, Miami was forced to give up its 1996 first-round draft pick to New York, but adding further insult to injury, that selection turned out to be Walter McCarty, who was a Knick for only one season and never developed into much of an NBA player.

In 1997, Riley made matters even worse for New York by leading Miami to a seven-game Eastern semifinals win over the Knicks, who with the Heat, developed one of the league's most bitter rivalries.

The Knicks Got Even for a While…

New York paid Riley back each of the next three years, with 3-2 first-round series wins over Miami in 1998 and 1999, and a 4-3 Eastern semifinals win against the Heat the following year. Riley also watched the Knicks go to the NBA Finals in 1999, five years after he brought them there.

But Riley Has Had the Last Laugh Ever Since

Those trends turned radically back in favor for Riley and Miami, however, as New York entered a dozen-year drought without a playoff series win while Riley transformed the Heat into a multi-time champion as both a head coach and front office executive.

Moving from the Miami bench to the front office and back to coaching again, Riley drafted eventual superstar Dwyane Wade with the fifth overall pick in 2003, and quickly built the Heat into a league champion, which Riley coached to an NBA title in 2006, with Wade leading the way.

Just two years later, Riley stepped down as coach again, when Miami went from the top of the league to the bottom, finishing with a 15-67 record, the worst of Riley's coaching career.

Yet only two summers after that, Riley climbed back to the pinnacle of the league at his old team's expense. With the Knicks hoping to land LeBron James as a free agent, Riley got the best of New York again by adding James and Chris Bosh alongside Wade to remake the Heat into an instant NBA title contender that on Thursday night, captured its second consecutive NBA championship with Riley as the team's president.

The Knicks, meanwhile, can only dream of getting to that point for now, as they continue to seek multiple playoff series wins in the same season for the first time since 2000.

What if Riley Stayed in New York?

Who knows how the Knicks and Heat might have fared had Riley remained in New York, running the show either as a head coach or an executive, as he has in Miami. Perhaps the two franchises might have switched roles over the past decade-plus.

One thing's for certain though. Since Riley's famous fax, there's no denying the facts that Riley and the Heat have become what the Knicks are still hoping to be.

Jonathan Wagner is a regular New York Knicks contributor for Yahoo! Sports, a Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day, and a co-host discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.

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