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Ex-Knicks Coach Returns to Garden

December 20, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Pat Riley always loved Madison Square Garden and its fans. On Tuesday night, they didn’t love him back.

In his first game at the Garden since quitting as Knicks coach, Riley was greeted by deafening boos when he walked on to the court with his new team, the Miami Heat.

But he was his unflappable self, striding self-assuredly across the floor in a black Armani suit, waving with both hands to the crowd.

``I love you,″ he said to the few folks applauding in the stands.

As his former fans booed louder, Riley motioned for them to bring it on.

Then the ``Riley sucks!″ chants began.

When Riley was introduced as Heat coach, the boos got louder again. He just smiled and waved, but looked tense surrounded by several plainclothes security men.

He did get a warm reception from three of his former players. Just before the tipoff, guards Derek Harper and John Starks ran over to say hello, and Starks gave him a big hug. Center Patrick Ewing also came over to shake his hand.

The Knicks’ other two starters, Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley, both of whom clashed with Riley during his tenure, ignored their former coach.

As the game began, Riley assumed his typical game posture, on one bended knee on the sideline. Only on this night, it was on the visitors’ side of the court.

In his four seasons as coach of the Knicks, Riley made the Garden the place to be and be seen. And a place to watch a winner.

Celebrities flocked to courtside seats to see the suave Riley turn around a Knicks team that had won only 39 games the season before he took over.

Despite his differences with team management he said led to his sudden resignation in June, Riley always appreciated the support and the buzz of excitement from New York fans.

``There’s nothing like New York,″ Riley said earlier in the week. ``From that standpoint, I’m sorry that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to them.

``Sometimes this business creates a situation that doesn’t allow you to say goodbye the right way. I’m going back there, and I’m going to try and coach a game in front of an audience that made four years of my life worthwhile.″

Although filmmakers Woody Allen and Spike Lee continue to attend, the star power has suffered a brownout since Riley left. Even though the team has a better record than it did at the same point last year under Riley, Don Nelson and his Tommy Hilfiger-designed wardrobe is no match for Riley and his Giorgio Armani outfits when it comes to attracting glitterati.

On Tuesday night, however, a few notables did show, like actors Mel Gibson and Billy Baldwin.

The last time Riley was on the Garden sidelines, he walked off the court as a loser. The Knicks lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Indiana Pacers when Ewing’s layup in the final seconds bounced off the back of the rim, giving Indiana a 97-95 victory.

In his postgame comments, Riley gave no indication he was contemplating leaving the team.

But less than a month later, Riley shocked the Knicks by informing them by fax that he was quitting as coach, even though a year still remained on his contract and the team had offered him a five-year, $15 million contract extension.

His deal with Miami is worth in excess of $30 million and includes an ownership stake in the club.

The fans didn’t waste the opportunity to goad Riley about money. One held up a sign reading, ``Greeding$ Pat″ while another kept yelling, ``Send ’em a fax, Pat!″

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