A quarter-century ago, it was hard to imagine an NBA squad more associated with a head coach than the New York Knicks were with Pat Riley, who imposed his will upon a team that played a grinding, defensively intense, borderline dirty style of ball.
Today, it's hard to remember a time when the Knicks were successful, or Riley wasn't associated with the Miami Heat.
Riley's past and present teams will meet Sunday night, when the reeling Knicks host the Heat at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams were off Saturday after playing Friday, when the Heat posted a 100-94 road win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and the visiting Knicks continued their months-long skid by falling to the Brooklyn Nets, 109-99.
The defeat was the eighth straight for the Knicks, who have dropped 16 of 17 and 21 of 24.
While there may be some light at the end of the tunnel as New York tries to position itself to win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes -- it is in a four-way battle with the Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns for the worst record in the NBA -- the losing has begun to wear on players, including Allonzo Trier, who engaged with a fan on Twitter and seemed to blame Tim Hardaway Jr. for a defensive miscue late in Wednesday's 114-110 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Head coach David Fizdale tried to find some humor in the situation.
"What are we going to do? Lose more games?" Fizdale said. "I shouldn't make light of it. Sometimes you've got to laugh."
Alas, laughs have been few and far between in the Big Apple since Riley left to become the president and head coach of the Heat in 1995 following a four-year stint in which he led the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals. New York has advanced beyond the conference semifinals just twice since 1996 and moved past the first round once in the last 18 seasons.
Riley, meanwhile, is now synonymous with the Heat, which has won three NBA titles under his watch. But after two stints as Miami's head coach, Riley, 73, is finally comfortable serving in the front office and ceding the sidelines to Erik Spoelstra, who surpassed Riley as the longest-tenured coach in franchise history earlier this week.
Spoelstra, who began his career with the Heat as a video coordinator, said he remembers a conversation with his father, former NBA executive Jon Spoelstra, in which he was encouraged to cherish every moment working with Riley.
"It doesn't matter what your position is, it doesn't matter if you ever get promoted, just find a way to hang with this guy, this Hall of Famer," Spoelstra said. "So I guess the lesson to that is I'm still just trying to hang on, I'm trying to work for him for as long as I possibly can."
--Field Level Media