Pat Riley, who found virtually nothing but success with the Los Angeles Lakers, went after a tougher challenge Friday as coach of the New York Knicks.
Dave Checketts, president of the Knicks, announced Riley's hiring after three weeks of speculation following the resignation of John MacLeod to go to Notre Dame. Sources said Riley, who worked as an analyst for NBC this season, was given a five-year contract for approximately $6 million, plus incentives."I missed the fire down on the floor," Riley said of his one-year hiatus from coaching. "I tried to get over it, but Dave made it too hard for me to get over."
Riley said he knew on Nov. 3, when he worked for NBC at a Spurs-Lakers game, that he would miss coaching too much to stay away from it.
"I realized in the last year, although I felt good about my job with NBC, that I would feel a void of competition, that I would miss being down on the floor with a team. That desire put me here today."
Riley won four championships and made three other trips to the NBA Finals with the Lakers from 1982-1990. He is the sixth coach in seven years for the Knicks, who haven't advanced past the second round of the playoffs since winning the NBA title in 1973.
This year, they were 21-20 at Madison Square Garden and were swept by Chicago in the first round.
"Magic will return to the Garden, not the player, but the team," Checketts said. "Pat Riley is acknowledged as the coach of the '80s, and there is no better coach to lead the Knicks into the '90s."
Riley's regular-season percentage of .733 in nine years with the Lakers is the best in NBA history and he won 102 playoff games, the only coach over 100. Red Auerbach won 99 playoff games in 20 seasons with the Boston Celtics.
Riley said he would have left NBC for no other coaching job.
"In my 23 years as a player with the Lakers and a coach, there never was a bigger game for me than when I came to the Garden," Riley said. "I hope to create that environment in New York again. I've been in California for 23 years and it wasn't an easy decision for me to leave. But this is a great challenge for all of us."
Much of the speculation concerning the Knicks' search for a coach was whether Riley would accept working under Checketts and Ernie Grunfeld, the director of player personnel.
Three other coaches - Doug Collins, Tom Penders ofthe University of Texas and Knicks assistant Paul Silas - were interviewed for the job, but Checketts left no doubt that it was Riley the Knicks wanted.
"Dave and Ernie are in charge of the New York Knicks," Riley said. "This job isn't about power and influence. It's about fitting in with a system. We'll go head to head on decisions, but we'll make the decision based on what is best for the Knicks."
Riley, who will continue to work for NBC during the NBA Finals, which start Sunday, said when he begins work for the Knicks, "we will start forming a philosophy and a system that will be successful."
He said he was looking forward to working with Knicks center Patrick Ewing, who recently has been unhappy with his contract and the team's lack of success.
"I don't think Patrick is discontented," Riley said. "He's a warrior who wants to win. His competitiveness is the same as Magic Johnson's and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's."
Riley was reluctant, however, to discuss the rest of the Knicks' players until he gets to know them.
"I have to understand the players and they have to understand me," he said. "If a player wants to win, he will get into the spirit of what it takes to win. That's more powerful that anything they can get back from the game."
Asked what kind of team he wanted, he said, "I want to run and pick up at halfcourt, and I'll try to find players who fit into that."