Remember the bad as well as the good with ex-Indiana men’s basketball coach Bob Knight

Ryan Stieg

Friday was Valentine’s Day, an occasion where people express their love or appreciation for significant others, friends or just special people in their lives.

Last weekend, Indiana University attempted to do that with its notorious former men’s basketball coach, Bob Knight. It had been 20 years since Knight had appeared at a Hoosiers game in Bloomington, primarily for seemingly endless bitterness over being fired in 2000 for let’s just say, behavioral issues.

However, a year ago, Knight moved back to town and it appeared that after trying for years to get him to make an appearance, it looked to be possible. He arrived last Saturday and was immediately welcomed by rabid Hoosiers fans, current students and alums, some of who claimed to cry.

This isn’t surprising to me at all. Indiana is an interesting place and I lived in Indianapolis when I went to graduate school. In Indiana, if you’re a sports figure and you bring success to the state’s teams, the majority of fans will love you for years.

When legendary NFL quarterback Peyton Manning was released by Indianapolis and went to the Denver, there were some fans so upset that they ditched their blue Colts gear for orange Broncos wear. Seriously, they ditched their home team to support a guy on another franchise. It was even weirder with Knight as some people refused to support the Hoosiers after IU fired him, even if their beloved coach did everything in his power to justify that decision.

To people who known the town, the state and its fan base, you knew the reception Knight was going to get. That didn’t mean he deserved it all. For anybody who had a television or read a newspaper from the late 1970s through the ’90s, it was blatantly obvious that Knight was a terrible person.

Let’s start with Knight’s famous physically abusive incidents, many recounted in a 2006 article by the Houston Chronicle. In 1975, Knight grabbed an IU player by his jersey and jerks him out of his seat for committing two turnovers. Four years later, he’s charged, tried and convicted in absentia for hitting a policeman before practice in Puerto Rico at the Pan American Games.

Two years after that, he and an LSU fan had a shoving match and the fan said Knight “stuffed him in a garbage can at a hotel.” In 1993, he flipped out during a game, screamed at his son Pat, who played for him and kicked at him. He was suspended a game for that. In 1994, he screamed at player Sherron Wilkerson and headbutted him. Knight said it was unintentional. Sure, Bob.

It gets worse. In 1999, Knight was investigated for possible battery after allegedly choking a man at a restaurant, but charges weren’t filed. He also allegedly threw his assistant out of a chair that same year. In 2000, two incidents brought IU to the breaking point. In March, Knight was investigated after former player Neil Reed said he was choked by the coach at a 1997 practice. A videotape backed up Reed’s claim.

More and more stories came out. Knight was accused of throwing a vase at an IU secretary, his own son Tim suffered a “dislocated shoulder and a broken nose” during a fight with Knight during a hunting trip and he was also accused of attacking and knocking out a Hoosiers sports information director in the ’70s.

Anywhere else, Knight would have been handed his walking papers years before and it looked like IU finally got to that point. In May 2000, Knight was fined $30,000, suspended three games and was placed on a “zero-tolerance” policy. In September, the final nail was hammered when he was accused of “grabbing a student by the arm, cursing and lecturing him about manners” after the guy said “Hey, Knight, what’s up?” Three days later, IU president Myles Brand fired Knight in a move praised by many, but caused riots on the IU campus.

I haven’t even gotten to Knight’s verbal abuse or terrible quotes. He ranted on referees, his players, IU cheerleaders, NCAA officials, university officials at both Indiana and Texas Tech (when asked about his former bosses with the Hoosiers, Knight said “I hope they’re all dead”), and of course, the media.

Knight also famously said when he was asked how he handled stress in a 1988 TV interview, “I think if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” As the Indianapolis Star noted, Knight insists he was taken out of context, but I don’t know how you can justify that in any context.

Then there’s the incident forever etched in people’s minds. Not the three national titles Knight won, or 902 wins, at one point a NCAA men’s record.

It’s the chair toss. In a 1985 game against Purdue, he became so fed up with the officiating, he grabbed a chair and threw it across the court. He was ejected and suspended by the Big Ten for a game, but the video will live on forever.

For my generation, we don’t remember Bob Knight as a great coach. He’s the raging lunatic who threw office furniture across the floor.

Yet last Saturday, it seemed like everyone forgot those moments. Famous IU alums made sure to get tickets, students stood in line and fans were overcome with delight.

Worse was the media coverage. Knight had famous feuds with the press, typically overreacting to legitimate questions, but some reporters fawned over him and wrote glowing stories about the day, either absent-mindedly or purposely forgetting what he did. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t pleasant to read or hear.

I’ve tried to understand that and I think it comes down to image. Maybe now that Knight is almost 80, frail and far less intimidating than when he was a coach and called “The General,” people seem to give him a pass. He definitely didn’t look the same as what I and others remember him as — an angry, bitter, unapologetic man.

Maybe it was just a fan base showing its appreciation for a guy who turned Indiana into a national powerhouse, and to be honest, they should. Knight is truthfully one of the best basketball coaches ever, college or pro, and believed strongly in the importance of academics. If that was the main reason for the reception he got, then he deserved it.

IU showed its Valentine’s Day love a few days early for Knight and his career achievements, which was a good thing. However, he got away with a lot of terrible things for years that you or I would never be able to at our workplace all because he won games and championships.

Love can make you blind at times and that’s a really bad thing. Bob Knight should be remembered as an amazing, innovative coach, but he should also be remembered for his horrific behavior.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.


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