How Pat Riley Quit on the Knicks

It was mid-February 1995, the first game after the All-Star break, and the Knicks were getting drilled on the road by a Detroit club 12 games under .500. By halftime, they trailed by 25. A red-faced Riley responded by punching a hole in the visiting locker room’s blackboard.

The team’s play that night wasn’t all that was bothering Riley. Butera had just been informed he wouldn’t be getting the Miami Heat. “He’d kept telling me, ‘I’ll definitely come with you if you can buy the Heat,’ ” Butera recalled.

But even after that plan fell through, a different opportunity remained.

That same month, Micky Arison, chairman of Carnival Cruise Lines, took over as the majority owner of the Heat, and had a series of calls with Butera, phone records would later show. And while it’s not clear what was discussed — Butera denied Riley was the topic of conversation — it wasn’t long after that Arison sought to meet Riley when the Knicks were in town.

On the morning of Feb. 16, Arison, who’d grown up a Knicks fan, arrived at Miami Arena early. He waited in a corridor that led to the court, wanting to watch the Knicks’ shootaround. Riley was fiercely competitive and private, so no, Arison couldn’t stay.

“I was curious, based on his reputation,” Arison said. “The fact that he refused? I respected it.”

But as Riley prepared to leave with his players, the new owner was standing at the exit. He pulled Riley aside, asking if he could talk with him for a few minutes.

Arison’s persistence stopped Riley in his tracks. Since he’d taken the Knicks job, Riley had prioritized loyalty. The idea of being all the way in, or all the way out. Riley didn’t believe in fraternizing with anyone outside the team. So could he really agree to meet with Arison now, after a team workout, just hours before a game?

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