The courtship started at a 1991 reunion of distinguished Kentucky lettermen. Pat Riley was in Lexington to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his team’s run to the NCAA final, where Adolph Rupp’s small but resilient Wildcats — Rupp’s Runts they were called — lost to Texas Western and its historic all-black starting five.
Rick Pitino, then the Kentucky coach, approached Riley, then an NBC analyst, and asked the four-time champ with the Showtime Lakers if he planned a return to the NBA. Riley said he wanted to coach again, and soon enough Pitino was on the phone with his friend and former neighbor in Bedford, N.Y., Stanley Jaffe, to tell him about an exciting free agent about to hit the open market.
The same Stanley Jaffe about to be named president and CEO of Paramount, owner of Madison Square Garden.
As the producer of blockbusters such as “Fatal Attraction” and “Kramer vs. Kramer,” Jaffe understood the value of star power. Without revealing his inside knowledge of a potential rise to the top of MSG, Jaffe once pleaded with Pitino to reject Kentucky’s overtures and remain with the Knicks.