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COMMENTARY : Riley Sounds as if He's in Jail

March 25, 1995|MIKE LUPICA | NEWSDAY

When his players talk too much, Pat Riley throws a fit. But every time Riley himself starts talking these days, he can't seem to stop. Sometimes Riley sounds as if he is trying to talk himself right out of town.

A few weeks ago, after a game the Knicks won against the Miami Heat, Riley called his players unprofessional. Last week, Riley talked about what a lousy attitude the Knicks have these days. He said it was more players than only Anthony Mason, right before he hit Mason with that five-game suspension. In a week when the Knicks won three in a row, you got the idea both the Knicks and their coach were coming completely unraveled.

The other day, before the Knicks lost to the Charlotte Hornets, Riley gave another speech. It was about his contract situation, it was about coaching the Knicks, it was about working in New York. And it suddenly started to sound as if coaching the Knicks has been some kind of jail sentence for Riley. If he doesn't watch it, that big contract extension the Knicks have been offering will come off the table.

Riley is too smart to sound like this much of a complainer. So he should stop.

"Look how well this team has done," Riley said Tuesday. "This team has the second-best record since we have been together in the league. We've got more playoff wins than anybody else except the three-time world champion Bulls. To me, everything should be good. But everything seems so bad."

It seems bad to him. Riley is the only one who talks about unprofessional ballplayers, he is the one who talks about how bad the attitude is, he is the one who talks about the "internal voice" of his team, and how it has to be heard, or the Knicks are lost. He is the one who seems miserable with a 43-22 record, despite all the Knicks have overcome to get there.

Pat Riley seems to be the one with the attitude problem all of a sudden, not the Knicks.

He is a great coach, with the best championship record since Red Auerbach, and the Knicks should not lose him. No one has shown more respect for Riley's work more often the last four years than I have. I like Riley, and think he is more right about the way things ought to be in sports than most people with jobs like his. I said the other day that he should declare whether he is in or out for next season, the way he is always asking his players to declare.

"I'm in," Riley said, explaining that he was in the gym every day coaching as hard as ever. No one was sure if he was talking about next season or not, because he kept going and going, and before he was through, it sounded as if coaching these players for this organization, in this city, has been tougher than going against his own defense. It is where Riley went too far.

The fact is that New York has only made Pat Riley bigger, even though he has not yet produced a championship for the Knicks.

From the time Riley showed up at Madison Square Garden, he has been the coolest guy in the whole room. He doesn't look anything like that right now. For the past four years, Riley has been treated like the king of New York. He should stop sounding as if he has been doing time.

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