I want to take a moment to remind and educate everyone on what’s about to happen this Sunday. Some of you might know, many have forgotten, and a lot are way too young to understand. So here is the history of the Knicks/Heat rivalry starting in 1995.
In 1995, one of the greatest basketball coaches NY ever had, Pat “the Rat” Riley quit as Knicks head coach. There was still one year left on his contract but he’d given up on NY. Months later he took a position with the Miami Heat as team president and head coach. He was given complete control over the team, something NY wasn’t willing to provide.
Miami was illegally negotiating with Riley behind the scenes while still with NY in an effort to steal him away from the second best team in the NBA. Miami had to settle this issue by giving NY their 1996 first round draft pick and one million dollars cash.
Riley spent the 95/96 season building the team he wanted. The tension erupted in the 1996/1997 season when both teams met in the semi conference finals. Each franchise made easy work of their round one teams. The New York Knicks were actually favored to beat the Bulls that season since it was Michael Jordan’s second year back after his first retirement and he wasn’t at 100% but still a force to be reckoned with.
The Knicks were favored to win the series and were up 3 – 1 in a best of 7. They only had to win one more game to clinch the series and go on to face the Bulls. In game five Pat Riley (in our opinion) instructs PJ Brown to start a fight in front of the Knick bench. Brown proceeds to flip Charlie Ward and body slam him to the ground. The entire Knick bench clears to break-up the fight. The entire Heat bench stays in their seat.
The NBA has rules about teams clearing the bench during a fight. It resulted in suspensions for the entire Knick starting line-up. The Knicks star player Patrick Ewing just stepped a few inches onto the floor to see what was happening. He wasn’t even involved in the fight!!! It didn’t matter. Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, John Starks, Larry Johnson were suspended for one game spread out over game 6 and 7. Without their full lineup the Knicks proceeded to lose game 6 and game 7. Heat advanced against the Bulls and lost in five games.
A championship was stolen from NY that year. A series which should have been wrapped up in 6 games was lost. Riley knew his old team would take the bate and worked the best miracle he could to advance his team. In hindsight the Knicks should have taken all their suspensions at once in game 6 and focused completely on winning game 7, instead of spreading it out.
In the 1997/1998 season the Knicks/Heat meet again in the playoffs. The teams were evenly matched, the playing was physical and the scores were low. In Game 4 Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, who were formers teammates on the Charlotte Hornets, get into a fistfight with neither one landing a single punch. The 5’9” Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy gripped 6’11” Alonzo Mourning’s left for dear life. It was as comedic as it was tragic. Mourning and Johnson got suspended. Knicks went on to win the series in 7 games. Knicks lost to the Pacers in 5 games in the follow-up.
The 1999 season saw a major revamp in the Knicks lineup. Starks and Oakley were traded, breaking up a dynasty which dominated east coast basketball in the 90s. The Knicks obtained Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby. It was an abbreviated season due to a players strike. The Knicks barely made the playoffs that season due to the shortened season. They hadn’t found their chemistry yet. Knicks were the 8th seeded team and going up against the 1st place Miami Heat in a best of 5 series. The series was pushed to game 5, tied two a piece this was the deciding game for the series. Miami was favored to win. The new Knicks line-up was going to be labeled a failure. Miami held a 77–76 lead with 4.5 seconds left, and inbound pass was made to Allan Houston who shot a running 1-hander which was a little short but fate stepped in and it bounced off the front rim, to the backboard, and in the basket with 8 tenths left. It gave New York a 78–77 victory. The Knicks went on to perform a Cinderella run which landed them into NBA finals that year, eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs in 5 games.
In the 1999/2000 season the Heat and Knicks meet yet again in the playoffs. The entire series pushes to game 7 where the Knicks pull out another well deserved victory over the heat. Knicks proceeded to lose to the Pacers in six games.
Through a series of continuing mismanagement, the Knicks proceeded to be a horrible team from the next 20 years with little moments of hope sprinkled in between. Ultimately the feud cooled down since the Knicks and Heat hadn’t met in the playoffs or pushed them to final game deciding series.
A sparkle of hope occurred in 2010 when the Knicks restructured their entire team in hopes of obtaining Lebron James in fee agency. Lebron leveraged NY the get the best deal he could with Miami. Pay Riley created the Big Three with James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosch. Michael Jordan only needed one superstar in the name of Scotty Pippen to win 6 titles. James needed two superstars…
Regardless, in 2012, the Knicks crossed paths with the Heat in their first playoff appearance together in twelve years. The Knicks were no match for the fo-dream team and lost in five games. The Heat went on to win a championship that year.
From 1996 – 2000 it was one of the toughest rivalries in sports. The Heat are a horrible team and need to crushed with no mercy. Pat Riley is still the president of the Miami Heat and left NY in such a sour way, he should pay the price every time these teams face one another. The players might have changed but the rivalry isn’t dead.
BEAT THE HEAT!