The Miami Heat and New York Knicks have plenty of bad blood, dating back to the mid-90s. Even 30 years after Pat Riley left New York for Miami, storylines remain between the two teams. Riley is now the Heat’s president, while Tom Thibodeau, an assistant for Jeff Van Gundy, Riley’s successor in New York, is the Knicks’ head coach. Jimmy Butler, the Heat’s best player, was a former mentee of Thibodeau in Chicago. The two share a rich and, at times, contentious past. (“Fuck Thibs ... and I like Thibs,” Butler recently told ESPN.) With the Knicks and Heat currently caught in a second-round playoff battle in the East, we’ve highlighted the 10 moments in chronological order that best embody the feud between two teams with no love lost.
10. Blood in the Garden
Nobody chronicled the Knicks/Heat rivalry in the 1990s more than Chris Herring in his book Blood in the Garden. Because it’s been so long since the Knicks have been relevant, the book is a great history lesson for younger Knicks fans, ignorant of what the 90s were like when hope was alive. It traces the start of Pat Riley’s tenure with the Knicks way up to his leaving and the magical 1999 Finals run under Riley’s former assistant, Jeff Van Gundy.
9. The Fax
During the 90s, the Knicks’ biggest rival was certainly Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But after that was the feud between head coach Pat Riley and executive Dave Checketts. In 1991, Checketts, as the Knicks president, recruited Riley to join the team on a five-year contract. But the rivalry soured when Riley wanted more power in the front office, including an ownership stake. The relationship soured, and Riley informed the team he was leaving through a freaking fax. Chaos ensured.
8. Jeff Van Gundy Refusing Riley’s Overture
After leaving New York for Miami, Riley tried to recruit Van Gundy to join him. Van Gundy refused, choosing to stay in New York, a decision that forever endeared him to Knicks fans. In a dastardly move, Riley instead hired Van Gundy’s brother, Stan, who would first serve as Riley’s assistant before going on to coach the Heat from 2003-2005. The elder Van Gundy was fired by Miami in 2005, the year before Riley would return as coach, winning the franchise its first NBA Championship in 2006.
7. Riley’s Return
“I feel he’s a turncoat and a traitor, and basically we don’t need him since we’re still doing well without him,” those were the words of a fan when interviewed by then MSG Network broadcaster Michael Kay before Riley’s return to MSG as the Heat’s head coach. It was a sentiment shared by many New Yorkers then and now. During that first game, Riley blew kisses, and waved at the crowd like a true heel.
6. Clash of Georgetown Centers (97 playoffs)
As Georgetown Hoya legends, Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing had developed a friendship as two of the NBA’s most dominant centers to emerge from the university’s storied big-man basketball system. With the two centers anchoring the two toughest, most brutal teams in the NBA, the storyline presented itself as a must-see heavyweight match anytime the two faced off, especially in the playoffs.
5. PJ Brown/Charlie Ward Fight
In the 1997 playoffs, the Knicks took a 3-1 series lead against Miami, putting New York in position for a postseason rematch with Jordan and the Bulls. Until a wrestling match broke out in the final seconds of the Heat’s Game 5 win, when Heat center PJ Brown, the Knicks’ public enemy No. 1, bodyslammed Knicks point guard Charlie Ward into a row of photographers stated under the basket. For their part, the Knicks were punished with a total of five suspensions, which, at the time, was the most severe penalty in NBA playoff history. Brown was suspended for two games, but Ward, Ewing, Starks, Houston, and Johnson were all sidelined for Game 6. Miami would capitalize on that advantage, recovering from its 3-1 deficit and ending the Knicks’ season.
4. Hornets Brothers Brawl
The two teams met again in the first round the following year. This time the Knicks had Larry Johnson on the roster, Mourning’s former teammate in Charlotte, a pairing that ended with — you guessed it — bad blood. Things came to a head when the Knicks were seconds away from evening up the best-of-five series at 2 games apiece when the two former Hornets got into a brawl for the ages, best remembered for the iconic image of Van Gundy wrapping himself around Mourning’s leg in a futile attempt to stop the fight.
3. The Shot (99 Finals)
In 1999, the Heat and Knicks met again. This time the Heat entered the series as the No. 1 seed, with the Knicks making a Cinderella run to end the season, backing into the playoffs at No. 8. In the final seconds, Knicks star guard Allan Houston hit the biggest shot in franchise history, making history for the Knicks as the second No. 8 seed ever to defeat a top-ranked team in NBA playoff history. “The Shot” embodies that Knicks team’s heart in its improbable and history-making run to the Finals.
2. Melo’s 41
Thanks to 41 points from Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks snapped an NBA-record 13-game postseason losing streak in the first round of the 2013 playoffs by beating the Miami Heat, 89-87, in Game 4. For many fans who started watching after 2001, it was the first playoff win they saw, and to make it even sweeter, it came on the back of a scoring rampage from Anthony, the team’s best player between 2000 and 2020. The Knicks, though, would go on to lose that series in five games. But at least they snapped the streak, and no punches were thrown.
1. Renewed Rivalry
The Knicks and Heat are currently fighting it out in a renewed rivalry between the two clubs. Riley is still the orchestrator of the current Heat roster, led by playoff superstar Jimmy Butler, the one-time pupil of Thibodeau. While at press time the Heat lead the Knicks 3-1, every game has been a knock-down, drag-out fight between two teams that prefer to keep the score under 100 points. Regardless of this year’s outcome, there is hope, with both franchises relevant at the same time, that it won’t be another decade before these squads meet up in the playoffs again. And if history is any indicator, they’ll be back to brawling before long.