In ’95, the New York Knicks received a fax, and 25 years later, they’re still paying the price for not paying the price.
It was Pat Riley‘s resignation letter, who, in his own version of The Decision, decided to take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. And while his jerseys weren’t defaced and burned, nor were his action figures trampled, nor was anyone yelling at TV screens, looking at the aftermath of how Riley’s decision impacted the next two and a half decades for the Knicks, it’s safe to say that the NY fans underreacted. And not towards Pat, but towards the guy who refused to pay the price – the Knicks president at the time – Dave Checketts.
Along with Ernie Grunfeld, Checketts was the guy who brought Riley to New York in ’91, as the best bet to win the franchise’s first title since ’73. Four years later, after Checketts had been promoted to Garden president and Grunfeld to Knicks GM, Riley had already made the Knicks into a serious contender. They were coming off a seven-game Finals loss against the Rockets while having four consecutive 50+ win seasons and winning two division titles.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the Knicks were seemingly on their way to the promised land, and renegotiating a deal with a guy who was leading them there was NY’s highest priority. So Checketts came out with an offer – 5 years/$15 million off the bat. Riley wanted more, and according to him, it ‘had absolutely nothing to do with money, but everything to do with power.’
“For the last two years, I had consistently and repeatedly expressed to Knick management my desire and need to be charged with ultimate responsibility for all significant aspects of the ballclub. During this time, I had tried my best to reach an agreement with management on these issues. Unhappily, the gap between us could not be bridged.”Pat Riley, LA Times
Riley reportedly sought control over the Knicks’ roster and the title of team president, which led to Grunfeld threatening to leave the organization in case of Riley’s promotion. It was even reported that Riley, at one point, asked for $50 million over five years, plus 25% ownership of the team, and the Knicks countered with a five-year, $25 million offer.
And so, while it seems that money was negotiable, the power wasn’t. For Riley, this was a deal-breaker. He secretly negotiated a $40 million deal with Miami, including 10 percent ownership, while the Knicks received $1 million and a first-round pick as tampering recoupment.
Twenty-five years later, Riley has won one more championship as the Heat head coach and two more as the executive. He lured both LeBron James and Chris Bosh into Miami. He molded Erik Spoelstra from a video room guy into a top-tier NBA head coach. He built the organization from the grounds up, creating an unmatched culture that led the Heat to the Finals again this year.
He became one of the best NBA executives/head coaches the league has ever seen, and he could’ve been all of that with the Knicks. Instead, they’re still paying the price for not paying the price.