Skip to main content

HOW MJ MADE THE '90s Pat Riley's worst decade in the NBA


Over his quarter of a century-long tenure with Miami, Heat's President Pat Riley did what he promised to do back when he took over the team's helm in September of 1995. He delivered a championship for Miami.

The Heat is, along with the Toronto Raptors, the only late 20th century NBA expansion team that won the NBA championship. Miami did it three times - in 2006, 2012, and 2013. However, Riley could have achieved much more than that, if not for one player, who many today consider the GOAT - Michael Jordan.

Across the 1980s, Riley's name became the synonym for the coaching success in the NBA. While coaching the Showtime Lakers, a majestic team led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to four NBA championship titles in the 1980s (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988), it seemed that Riley is the ultimate man for the rugged path to championship glory. If not for the 1989-90 postseason exit of the aging L.A. Lakers by the rising Phoenix Suns, Riley's coaching success in L.A. would be nothing less than perfect.

It was 1990. For one year, Riley decided to take a break from the league, not from the game, and to make himself invisible on the radar. Wanting to know how the future NBA game will look like while working in broadcasting, Riles scanned and scouted basketball trends worldwide.

Then, in the late spring of the 1990s, he accepted the New York Knicks call and began working on assembling an instant championship-caliber team around superstar center Pat Ewing. Riley quickly implemented a new defensive style of game, making all of his players play to the max of their abilities. There was one problem, though. This was the 1990s. This was the era of Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles


In Riley's perfect world, his 1990s teams, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat, could have reached more than one final (1994). If not for one 'villain' by the name of Michael Jordan. The player who many consider the GOAT bullied the 1990s Knicks even more than his Bulls teammates.

It was the Jordan's Bulls who eliminated the Knicks in the 1991 NBA playoffs (First round; just before Riley's arrival), 1992 (Eastern Conference Semifinals by 4-3), 1993 (Eastern Conference Finals by 4-2).

Riley's most significant 1990s success with the 1993-94 Knicks came at the time of Jordan's retirement. The 1993-94 Knicks were able to eliminate the Bulls in the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals by 4-3. They went all the way down to the game seven of the 1994 NBA finals with the Houston Rockets. There, just a step away from the promised land, the Knicks shooting guard John Starks had the worst shooting night of his career, hitting only 2-18 shots and missing all of his 11 tries from beyond the three-point arc!

After one more season with the Knicks in which the team was humiliated by Jordan's 55 points in his epic comeback on Broadway, Riley made a secret pact with the Miami Heat and went down to Florida.

But even though he rejuvenated the Heat and put together a great group of players, including Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Dan Majerle, Jamaal Mashburn, it was Jordan's shadow which followed Riley down to Miami. On their way to the 1996 and 1997 NBA championship, the raging Chicago Bulls were the ones who run over Riley's Heat and their championship dreams.

The bitterness of the 1990s for Riley continued even after. Riley's former team, the New York Knicks, eventually eliminated the Atlantic Division champion, Miami Heat, in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Now, in the post-Last dance era, Riley's Heat has another opportunity to win their fourth NBA championship and make-up for their Team's President postseason exits in the 1990s.

John Salley on Larry Bird vs. Bill Limber fight

John Salley on the Bill Laimbeer vs. Larry Bird fight: "He hit him very legal"

Most people agree that Bill Laimbeer was the one who initiated the brawl with Larry Bird. But John Salley, Bill's former teammate, sees the incident differently.

Bruce Bowen

Bruce Bowen addresses his dirty player reputation ”It's who I am”

Bruce Bowen shares his honest take on being tagged as a dirty player.


Patrick Beverly goes off on Stephen A. Smith: "You need to be drug tested. Get off the weed man!"

Safe to say, Pat Bev disagreed with Stephen A.'s take regarding James Harden and his possible new max contract.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton

DeAndre Ayton’s video game obsession will cost him a lot, on and off the court

DeAndre Ayton's love for video games reduces his sleeping time to two hours on some nights. This isn't good news to fans and the front office that is not keen on giving him a max extension.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler

“I know what I’m capable of” — Jimmy Butler shines the brightest as the Miami Heat draws first blood against the Boston Celtics

After a remarkable 42-point half, the Heat limited the Celtics to shoot just 2 out 15 from the field (13.3%) in the third quarter

Miami Heat small forward LeBron James on the floor vs. Dallas Mavericks

LeBron James admits 2011 Finals loss vs. Dallas Mavericks was the toughest one in his career

LeBron opened up on what the catastrophic 2011 Finals loss taught him.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverly and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James

“The taxes are much, much lower than L.A.” — Patrick Beverley tries to recruit LeBron James to Minnesota

Patrick Beverley named several formidable reasons why LeBron James should go to Minnesota.

Luka Doncic on his first WCF appearance: “I’m living the best life right now”

Luka Doncic on his first WCF appearance: “I’m living the best life right now”

Will Luka Doncic continue to live his best life? Or will the Golden State Warriors make it hell for him in the next following days?