MIAMI — Since taking over as Knicks head coach, David Fizdale has grown particularly close to Allan Houston, who is part of the team’s front office.
Fizdale calls it “ironic” after he once despised Houston — the former shooting guard who once caused so much pain on South Beach.
Tuesday, Fizdale was back at AmericanAirlines Arena, where he spent eight seasons as a Heat assistant coach (2007-2016) and pointed to the two NBA championship banners he was there for during the Miami Dream Team days.
But one of Fizdale’s most vivid memories is tied to when the Knicks and Heat were blood rivals in 1999 and he was when starting out as an intern to Heat video coordinator Erik Spoelstra.
Houston’s buzzer-beater bounced off the rim and glass and into the net to knock the Heat out of the playoffs in Game 5 in the first round of that season’s playoffs.
“It’s funny how things go full circle,’’ Fizdale said Tuesday. “I was in the video room when Allan Houston ripped our hearts out and now Allan’s office is down the hall from me. He’s been so supportive and we’ve built a great relationship.”
It was Fizdale’s first NBA job, and he’ll never forget the Knicks-Heat wars that season.
“Was a fight every game,’’ Fizdale said. “There wasn’t a time we played when someone didn’t get kicked out. The time playoffs rolled around, it was, ‘Oh we hate those guys.’ ”
Fizdale enjoyed reminiscing as the 1-3 Knicks geared up for Wednesday’s game against the Heat who are riding a three-game losing streak. Perhaps one day the rivalry will simmer again.
“We talked about it at the coaches’ meetings, because we were both in the video room at the time,” Spoelstra, now the Heat coach, said of Houston’s shot. “Heat-Knicks, when it was really Heat-Knicks, and those are the fun years, and neither one of us ever would have thought we’d be in a situation like this, coaching against each other for these two franchises.”
That 1999 season was lockout-shortened, and the Knicks entered the playoffs as the eighth seed against Pat Riley and the top-seeded Heat.
It was played at the old Miami Arena, which Fizdale referred to as “a rat trap.’’
“We prepped for the series,’’ Fizdale said. “I remember staying up either 36 straight or 48 straight hours. You lose track after 12 Diet Cokes, but we stayed up two days straight. In those days it was deck to deck. There was no technology — VCRs, making scout edits. We’d meet Stan Van Gundy at the plane at 4 a.m. to give him tapes. [Spoelstra and I] lived in that video room. It’s a big part of our bond.’’
Back then, Fizdale recalled, Riley wouldn’t let him attend practice. But across his Miami years, Fizdale was shaped by Riley’s demanding yet loyal approach. Knicks president Steve Mills was attracted to Fizdale because he came through Riley’s tutelage.
“Take care of the people in your building was his big thing, the people who live under his roof,’’ Fizdale said of Riley’s approach. “They know they’re loved and taken care of and in return, he expects you to bust your butt and be loyal to the organization, and try to build a culture. I try to bring that wherever I’ve been. Now that I’m in New York, it’s something I’m trying to implement.’’
After spending time as an assistant in Golden State and Atlanta, Fizdale returned to Miami in 2007 and became known as the Heat’s player-development guru. That is also what sold the rebuilding Knicks on Fizdale, who lasted one season and one month with Memphis’ veteran group.
“I’m back to roots,’’ Fizdale said. “I feel this is probably more my genealogy, what I came from — development — and I learned from great ones. [Spoelstra] was one of the great developmental assistant coaches the league has ever seen.’’
As he left the arena after practice, Fizdale said, “It always brings back great memories for me. To know I was part of a couple of those up there. At the same time we’re here to compete and try to win.’’