Revisionist History 101 With Pat Riley

Knicks fans don't believe the hype

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    There seem to be two major storylines emerging from LeBron James's decision to join the Heat on Thursday night.

    One is that James instantly went from relatively beloved to universally reviled for the crass spectacle he created and/or what his ultimate choice revealed about him as a player and a person.

    The fact that James chose the Heat over the Knicks burned a lot of hides around New York, but it is the other storyline that had to have longtime Knicks fans choking on their coffee on Friday morning. It is the notion being pushed that Pat Riley, by virtue of coaxing James to Miami, has further established himself as one of the biggest winners in all of basketball.

    It's funny how selective the memory can be when people are trying to establish a narrative.

    For example, isn't it funny how time robs you of the memory of the way Riley built the Knicks into a championship contender and recalls only that he couldn't finish the job despite being handed numerous golden opportunities. It would seem that one of the biggest winners in sports would have found some way to get past Michael Jordan at least once.

    It would also seem that a winner would have taken a look at John Starks at some point during Game Seven of the 1994 NBA Finals and said that perhaps it just wasn't his night. Riley did eventually realize that. Problem was he realized it in 2006. Winners tend to notice these things in the heat of battle, unless 20/20 hindsight is the true mark of a champion.

    Of course, looking at Riley's coaching career doesn't do much to back up the notion that he's the ultimate winner. His Heat teams in 1999 and 2000 found a way to lose to inferior Knicks squads and Riley, mastermind of masterminds, only got past them in 1997 by benefiting from a questionable interpretation of the rules that left the Knicks without several suspended players for crucial games while the Heat got off scot-free for their role in a bench clearing brawl.  

    Riley passed up another chance to try to slay the dragon in Chicago when he quit on the Knicks following the 1995 season. It was par for the course for Riley, who also quit the Lakers when his Showtime roster started to show some age. He did the same thing to the Heat in 2003 before returning in 2005 when the Heat had a healthy Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade in place to make a run at a title. He quit again when the team started to go stale in 2007. Winners don't like challenges, it seems.

    And we'd be remiss not to rehash for the millionth time the way Riley left the Knicks. He faxed in a letter of resignation to the team's offices. Losers do that, winners use the door.

    Let's not leave out his role in the James decision since that's why we're discussing this in the first place. Riley is being hailed for his work in convincing James, Wade and Chris Bosh to play together with the Heat alongside discussions of how much the three players enjoyed playing together in the Olympics and spoke often about wanting to play together. Can't have it both ways, fellas. Either Riley cooked this up or the players did and the latter seems a lot more likely.

    But Riley got them all to take less money! Nope. Wade took less money, but Bosh and James are making the same coin they could have made anywhere else thanks to the lack of state income tax in Florida. Winners benefit from tax codes written without their input.

    Look, Riley is a great basketball coach. He's won five NBA titles and he's won titles with two different teams. But all he did in the last week is what any team executive would have done when presented with the opportunity that fell at his feet. Donnie Walsh would have done it for the Knicks and John Paxson would have done it with the Bulls, the fact that Riley's team pulled it off would seem to have a lot more to do with Wade already playing there and the other advantages of the city than anything he actually did.

    There's certainly a strain of resentment running through this because of the history with Riley and the way things went down on Thursday, but, when you add up the facts, it is hard to understand where many people are coming up with this particular sum total.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.