Following a 92-87 loss to the Phoenix Suns on February 27, 1994, in an attempt to take their minds off their four-game-losing streak, Pat Riley took the Knicks on a diversion. The trip cost him $10,000, but according to Chris Herring, it cost the organization much more.
The Knicks' trip to Reno
Herring, the author of Blood in The Garden, made a guest appearance on The Jim Rome Show and shared some iconic stories about the 1990s New York Knicks. One of those stories was about their off-day trip to Reno -- a diversion initiated by none other than Pat Riley.
After losing their fourth game in a row, right as the plane was taking off to Sacramento, Riley sent his team secretary to go up to the pilot and ask him if they could reroute the plane somewhere else. "We were all very discouraged," Pat said. "So we tried to lighten it up. We had a day off, and it was just to get away from it. We're a very serious group of guys, and losing has hurt us. Sometimes you have to get a balance."
This was an instance where Riley couldn't fathom pushing the team any harder than he already had. So instead of going through their usual routine, using their day off to go through the film and prepare for the next game, Pat took his guys on a gambling excursion to Reno. He even paid for it with his own money.
"He pulled $10,000 of his own money out of his pocket, 500$ for each player," Herring said. "He starts, goes through his allotment right away, he burnt through all $500 right away. But what he was trying to do; he was about to change the starting lineup. He was about to pull three of his starters and put them on the bench, including Starks and Charles Smith, his No.2 and No.3 scorers on that team."
"It was a big shift, but he did it. The Knicks go from a four-game losing streak to winning that game in Sacramento and each of their 14 games after. So they went on a 15-game winning streak, but the irony is it might've had some role in unraveling Pat's relationship with the Knicks, though."
Chris Herring, The Jim Rome Show
The Knicks never paid him back
Pat's investment put the Knicks back on track but ruined his relationship with the organization in the long run. Because, just over a year after their trip to Reno, Riley left the Knicks. And despite reports saying he did it because team President Dave Checketts didn't want to give him a part of the ownership, according to Herring, the team's gambling gateway from the season before was also a part of the problem.
The team never really paid him back. He wanted to be reimbursed for something that turned the team around. They said, 'yeah, that's fine. We can understand that. We'll pay you back.' They never got around to doing that.
Chris Herring, The Jim Rome Show
"They couldn't figure out how to expense that for a publicly-traded company that had a bunch of shareholders -- how do you explain $10,000 gambling money for millionaires?" Herring said. "Pat got extremely frustrated about it, and he actually raised it with the person that would become the owner of the team a few months later. I was told he essentially never got over that. He was very much a nickel and dime guy for how wealthy he was."
Riley resigned as a Knicks head coach in June 1995. He informed the organization via fax, stating that his decision ‘had absolutely nothing to do with money, but everything to do with power.’ The same goes for the team's off-day trip to Reno. Riley obviously never got over that.