Our long national Knightmare
Once upon a time, Bob Knight was a hero of mine.
When I was in high school in the mid-1970s, my friends and I planned large swathes of our lives around Indiana University basketball.
When star Scott May, who apparently dated a girl from our high school for a time, was injured in 1975 and the Hoosiers failed to win the national title, we grieved. The next year, when IU went undefeated and claimed the championship, we reveled.
One reason we idolized Knight was that those ’70s Hoosier squads played the prettiest basketball I’ve ever seen. They were unselfish, working as a team, constantly moving without the ball, setting picks to free up another guy so he could set yet another pick, passing up 10-foot jump shots to get the ball to a player who had a lay-up, taking charges and playing man-to-man defense so tight they were almost inside the other team’s jerseys.
Those Knight-led IU teams just were fun to watch.
The other reason we loved Knight was that his success seemed to vindicate our view that Indiana was both the cradle and the epitome of the basketball world.
Even though none of us played organized hoops beyond junior high, like most Hoosier boys of that era, we had been drilled in the fundamentals. We knew that you threw a chest pass with two hands and that you snapped it rather than lobbed it. We knew you never crossed your legs on defense. And we all could dribble, pass and shoot with either hand.
(To this day, when I’m playing H-O-R-S-E with my son and his buddies, all of whom are good players, the only way I stay in the game is by forcing the right-handers to shoot left-handed hook shots and the left-handers to shoot righty. Then I give them a little lecture about the virtues of the old ways. They just love hearing those lectures.)
In short, we idolized Bob Knight because his values seemed to be our values.
But then time moved on.
We grew up.
As the years rolled past, the tales and episodes of his boorishness, bad behavior and bullying mounted, piling up like sewage in a blocked drain. There was the time he reportedly assaulted a police officer in Puerto Rico and received a six-month sentence in absentia because he refused to return and face the music. The chair throw. The alleged assaults of players, fellow coaches, other staffers and students.
When I was a newspaper reporter, my work brought me into contact with Knight a few times at press conferences and other public events.
Always, his approach during those times was to try to intimidate and bully every person in sight. He couldn’t stand to be questioned and he reacted with fury if anyone suggested that his every utterance wasn’t divinely inspired.
I walked away from all those occasions thinking the same thing about my once-upon-a-time hero.
What. A. Jerk.
When IU finally fired him 17 years ago – after yet another alleged quasi-assault on a student – I wasn’t sad to see him go.
I wasn’t surprised when he returned to the stage in Indiana to endorse Donald Trump. Like the president, Knight preaches accountability without practicing it, demands discipline without demonstrating it, celebrates courage without exhibiting it.
From the moment Knight left, IU has tried – again and again and again – to find a way to honor Knight and bring some closure to a troubled period in the school’s history.
And, again and again and again, Knight has spurned the school.
Most recently when Knight was interviewed by Dan Patrick about the release of a documentary about that perfect ’76 team, my one-time hero said he wished all the IU leadership from his last days at the school were dead.
Given that the IU president who fired him, Myles Brand, died painfully and tragically of pancreatic cancer eight years ago, it was a particularly tasteless and insensitive thing to say.
But that’s Bob Knight.
He says he loves IU’s fans and that his devotion to his former players knows no bounds, but those things don’t move him.
What really animates him – the most important things to him – apparently are his anger, his hatred and his carefully nurtured sense of grievance.
What. A. Jerk.