It was mid-February 1995, the first game after the All-Star break, and the Knicks were being drilled on the road by a Detroit club 12 games under .500. At half-time, they trailed by 25. A red-faced Riley responded by punching a hole in the blackboard in the visitors’ locker room.
The team’s play that night wasn’t all that bothered Riley. Butera had just been informed that he would not be getting the Miami Heat. “He kept telling me, ‘I’ll definitely come with you if you can buy the Heat,'” Butera recalled.
But even after the failure of this plan, another opportunity remained.
That same month, Micky Arison, president of Carnival Cruise Lines, took over as majority owner of the Heat and had a series of calls with Butera, phone records would show later. And while it’s unclear what was discussed — Butera denied Riley was the topic of the conversation — soon after, Arison sought out to meet Riley when the Knicks were in town.
On the morning of February 16, Arison, who had grown up as a Knicks fan, arrived early at Miami Arena. He waited in a hallway that led to the court, wanting to watch the Knicks shootout. Riley was fiercely competitive and private, so no, Arison couldn’t stay.
“I was curious, based on his reputation,” Arison said. “The fact that he refused? I respected him.”
But as Riley prepared to leave with his players, the new owner stood outside. He pulled Riley aside, asking if he could talk to her for a few minutes.
Arison’s persistence stopped Riley in her tracks. Ever since taking the Knicks job, Riley had prioritized loyalty. The idea of being completely indoors or completely outdoors. Riley didn’t believe in brotherhood with anyone outside of the team. So could he really agree to meet Arison now, after team practice, a few hours before a game?