“Patrick would be sitting there and, knowing the rule book, being a coach in the N.B.A., he’d say, ‘Oh, no, we can’t teach him that way, that’s illegal,’” Trey said.
But in the 1990s, little seemed out of line, or beyond the realm of anarchic possibility, when Pat Riley’s Heat and Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks staged an N.B.A. production of the Hatfields and McCoys — although the rivalry was also a knockoff of “All in the Family.”
Besides the Ewing-Mourning connection, Riley coached the Knicks from 1991 to 1995 before moving to Miami, and Van Gundy, his assistant in New York, held the job until 2001. In Miami, Riley hired another Van Gundy — Jeff’s brother, Stan.
There was a night in May 1999 when the Heat pulled away in the fourth quarter to force a decisive fifth game of a first-round playoff series, and the Knicks’ Latrell Sprewell, out of frustration and just for the fun of it, slammed the Heat’s Terry Porter to the floor on a fast break.
A furious Stan Van Gundy bolted upright from his seat next to Riley and stormed down the Heat’s inflamed bench, yelling: “Remember all that. Remember what they do.”
“They,” of course, being the team coached by his kid brother.
“What Riley taught his players was to compete with an intent to dominate and annihilate your competition, mentally and physically,” Alonzo Mourning said. “When he coached the Knicks, he planted that seed. Then he coached the Heat and he planted that same seed. He literally built two monsters.”
“Mirror images,” Ewing said.
Yet somehow, against all odds of tribal conflict, the Ewing-Mourning friendship was never shaken, much less severed. Not even when Ewing was suspended for a crucial playoff game between the two teams in 1997 after wandering harmlessly off the bench during a brawl under the basket, costing the Knicks a chance to play in the Eastern Conference finals.