BY JEFF ZURCHER
Washington was Cornwallis’s. Grant was Lee’s. Eisenhower was Hitler’s. And Bob Knight… Bob Knight… well… Bob Knight was his own.
The operative word here is nemesis.
On Sunday, September 10, 2000 Knight was relieved of his command of the Indiana University men’s basketball program. The order came down from IU president Myles Brand.
This is the same man who led the Hoosiers to 661 wins. The same man who earned 11 Big Ten conference championships and three NCAA titles. The same man who is Indiana basketball.
This, also, is the same man who is seemingly an insolent child.
For despite his age, accolades, and basketball wisdom, Bob Knight sure has a lot of growing up to do.
Following an investigation of a videotaped incident showing Knight’s hand wrapped around a former player’s neck, the coach was put on a probation of sorts in May. The rules of engagement were quite simple: no misbehavior on Knight’s part, job; misbehavior, no job. The university, finally, was playing no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy with the never-been-Mr.-Nice-Guy.
From then until recently, things seemed relatively calm around the Knight camp. Translation: he didn’t (accidentally) shoot anyone, deposit someone in a garbage receptacle, or chuck a flower pot in anyone’s general direction. All of which he has been known to do before.
Enter IU freshman Kent Harvey. Exit Bob Knight.
Harvey happened to be in the same campus building as Knight on September 7, which was his first mistake. His second mistake was speaking to Knight at all. And his third was how he addressed the coach, with a “Hey, what’s up, Knight?” – which is roughly the equivalent of hollering “Yo Billy-boy!” at William the Conqueror after he’s had a long day at the office.
Questionable whether Harvey meant disrespect. Unquestionable whether Knight inferred it.
And although this greeting was Harvey’s third strike, so to speak, Knight was the one who was out. Out with his well-practiced cursing, out with his unfriendly laying on of hands, out with his infamous out-of-control-ness, witnesses said. Out of a job, the president said.
Yet Bob Knight’s firing is difficult to believe.
Sure, his laundry list of mental and physical abusiveness would keep a dry cleaner busy for a month. Sure, he brought embarrassment to himself and his university numerous times. And sure, he is intolerant, manipulative, and out-dated.
But when somebody said, “Just win, baby,” Bob Knight didn’t waste his time thinking about the most chivalrous way he could go about it.
He was Machiavelli in a red sweater. And he had no problem with that.
Because in sports, they don’t ask, “how?” They just ask, “how many?”
Bob Knight’s how many is 763. (He won 102 games while at the U.S. Military Academy from 1965-71.) No other coach has earned NCAA and NIT crowns to go along with Olympic and Pan American Games gold medals. No other coach has more Division-I victories save Dean Smith, formerly of the University of North Carolina.
(Speaking of Smith, he is only similar to Knight in that they are both “old-school” – though Smith is like a funky 70s dance groove and Knight is like a butter churn – and that they both have great coaching records.)
And on top of winning, Bob Knight graduated 90 percent or more of his players and ran a clean program… in the sense that he didn’t cheat. That combination of elements may never be equaled in college hoops (although Roy Williams at Kansas and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke are looking good so far.)
And he did this for a long time in one place, 29 years. Yes, Bob Knight was loyal to Indiana and loyal to the game he loved.
And in the end, sadly, he proved loyal to his personality, his enemy.
Kent Harvey didn’t get Bob Knight fired. Bob Knight got Bob Knight fired. Knight’s even said so himself. And the man is blatantly honest, speaking quickly and without reservation – his best and worst qualities.
The “General” Robert Montgomery Knight, as he is appropriately christened by college basketball cat-callers like Dick Vitale, has other good qualities too. Generosity, compassion, humor, discipline. And he did many good deeds and often. But these have gone largely unnoticed, mainly because Knight didn’t want them made public.
Does this hint humility? Is Knight misunderstood?
Knight’s General Douglas MacArthur. Brash and arrogant. Fearless and feared. Loved and hated.
After his abrupt dismissal – from his Korean command – MacArthur delivered an address to Congress on April 19, 1951, saying, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
True. Go to hotbot.com and search for “Bob Knight.” You should get a link that is titled HYPERLINK
Indiana Men’s Basketball – Bob Knight, the university’s official web site. The description of the site reads: “In college basketball, the name Bob Knight is synonymous with greatness and winning. Just take a glance at the Knight file. The numbers and achievements to prove what he has done,”
Click on the link.
And you’ll get interim IU coach Mike Davis’s profile.