The angry man.

So, Bob Knight is dead. I guess I have to say something about that. And I have rarely felt less qualified to say anything about anybody.

When I first moved to Indiana, I found the discussion and static around Knight to be oddly familiar. “Same coach, different sport,” I told people in Columbus, noting the resemblance between Knight and the somewhat-recently departed Woody Hayes. Both of them old-school guys, the sort who talked with his fists as much as his voice, popular with the knuckleheads in the fan base, less popular with the people who valued their degrees and paid attention to changing times. Woody famously hated the forward pass, as the forward pass was becoming a much bigger part of the game. Knight disliked showtime ball, preferred boring ol’ teamwork. And both were coming to the end of their respective lines when things changed and they couldn’t change with them.

And that’s about all I know about the sports part of their careers. It’s not much, I know. I wasn’t a columnist in Ohio, but I was in Indiana, and Knight had a way of blocking out the sun, to where even if you were a basketball-ignorant derp like me, you had to say something about him, at least sometimes. When he threw the chair. When he yelled at a bunch of professors watching a practice, although that’s when I learned that some people laugh when someone else says, “PhD? That just stands for ‘piled higher and deeper.'” There was a story about how he got along with some woman who was writing a book, and that book was flattering. Mostly, what bugged me about him was, I.U. basketball inevitably disrupted the Thursday-night prime-time lineup, when I didn’t give a fat rat’s ass about I.U. basketball.

He also personified a certain kind of Hoosier, the ones who teared up over the insurance-company ad that portrayed a young Larry Bird shooting baskets because he had nothing else to do in French Lick, the ones who would stand in the checkout line at Meijer and leaf through whatever book about Knight was on the nearby rack, and sometimes buy it. In Michigan, they call the U-M fans who didn’t go to school there “Walmart Wolverines,” which is bitchy and classist and all that. In Indiana, I’d guess it was the majority of the fan base, people who didn’t care about the music or the business school or anything else, just the basketball team. I’d imagine it’s the same for most big schools. Knight was the I.U. representative for those fans – pushy, profane, a winner.

Much of the time, anyway.

But he couldn’t change, because why should he? And so the new university president came to town and indicated Knight’s standard behavior would no longer be tolerated. What happened? The inevitable: Some kid made a mildly disrespectful comment to him, he flipped out, and that was game over.

Who blows their life up like that? People like Bob Knight. Who is now dead, the winningest coach in college basketball for a while. He looked a lot like Mike Pence; let’s give him that.

What’s your Bobby Knight memory?

Posted at 9:16 pm in Current events |

33 responses to “The angry man.”

  1. Sherri said on November 1, 2023 at 9:38 pm

    What I will remember about Knight is that face screwed up in rage. Rage at his players, for not playing defense. Rage at referees. Rage, with a serving of contempt, for reporters in press conferences after games. It’s the face of the abuser, the bully.

    Knight always got far too much deference, because he won, and he did it “the right way”, without any NCAA scandals and his players graduating and playing team ball. There are lots of ways to play team ball, and it doesn’t have to look like Knight.

    He had to leave Puerto Rico ahead of the law after assaulting a police officer.

    I have been a basketball fan since I was a small child, but I was not a fan of Knight.

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  2. Jeff said on November 1, 2023 at 9:51 pm

    I’d simply note, as a Purdue alum, that he had a relentless focus on . . . graduating his players. He was known for this in certain circles. He was consistently 95% or higher; Notre Dame usually beat him (96% or so) but when he exceeded Digger Phelps he took great pleasure in that, as much as for winning NCAA laurels. He would hack on his IU peers in football and baseball for falling short of 95%, as Big Ten teams would post far lower numbers.

    And yes, like Woody, he had a penchant for sending money and fees and honoraria to . . . libraries. He was complicated, and he was likely showing early dementia symptoms at IU, let alone Texas Tech.

    I always wanted to beat Bobby, as a good Boiler, and any chair joke was grist for my mill, but his relentless focus on graduating his players — that has to be included in any retrospective. He wanted to win that category which many fellow coaches were indifferent to, and that’s to his everlasting credit.

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  3. Joe Kobiela said on November 1, 2023 at 10:01 pm

    Playing Rugby against I.U, went into Assembly hall to use the bathroom, round the corner there is Mr Knight wondering what the hell we were doing, explained who we were, he wished us luck and we were on our way. Best story Purdues coach Kadeys wife baked a bunch of brownies and gave them to coach Knight for his players to have on the bus ride back to Indiana after a Purdue victory, he was very grateful to her for the thought, had the bus stop at the city limit in West Lafayette and threw them in the ditch.
    Fact or fiction? Who knows but a good story.
    Pilot Joe

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  4. alex said on November 1, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    What’s my Bobby Knight memory? He was a toxic male who seemed to arouse the same sort of cultlike devotion as someone else we all know with a similar disposition. Probably a good thing he didn’t try to make politics his second act or the neo-fascist revolution would have been going full tilt a few decades sooner.

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  5. Deborah said on November 2, 2023 at 12:18 am

    Maybe I heard the name Bobby Knight before at some point but it certainly wasn’t a blip on my screen. The guy sounds like someone I’m glad I didn’t know anything about, another toxic male, we don’t need any more of those for sure.

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  6. Jim said on November 2, 2023 at 6:02 am

    Inside the game – rules, outside the game – no rules .

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  7. SusanG said on November 2, 2023 at 7:43 am

    I worked in Bryan Hall (headquarters for IU top brass) during the Bob Knight glory days of late seventies/early eighties. His boorish behavior was coached, encouraged and enabled by one particular Vice President who was the meanest, most miserable human being I’d ever met.
    At the time, I knew what was up. IU Bloomington was a hotbed of radicalism during the Vietnam and civil rights era. Bobby Knight was a return to the status quo.

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  8. Bitter Scribe said on November 2, 2023 at 9:27 am

    To me the iconic Knight moment was when a bunch of kids in the stands at a game started chanting “Who’s your daddy?” at Indiana players taking free throws.

    Now, at the time, “Who’s your daddy?” was just an irritating but harmless catchphrase meaning something like “Who’s the boss?” or “Who’s number one?” But Knight interpreted it as some kind of racist taunt directed at his Black players, evidently based on the trope of the missing Black father. So he freaked out and started screaming at those fans once the game was over.

    It’s a perfect Knight moment. He thought he had to protect his players from racism, and he did it the only way he knew how: By lashing out at someone.

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  9. alex said on November 2, 2023 at 9:39 am

    SusanG, I was at IU during that time and I remember how things were going from crunchy to preppy, how all of a sudden it was the cool kids joining the Greek system instead of having nothing to do with it. I remember it became a scandal when the president of one of the leftist student groups got busted spending his winter break in Vail. It was the time of the Reagan Revolution and it felt like people were suddenly trying to impose a conformist sensibility onto a place that wasn’t having it.

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  10. SusanG said on November 2, 2023 at 9:47 am

    I worked for Elinor and Vincent Ostrom. Did a stint I Europe for a couple of years, then job a job at Bryan Hall. Worst racists, bigots, misogynists I’ve ever encountered. And BK was their hero. Prototype for Trump.

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  11. Suzanne said on November 2, 2023 at 9:59 am

    I was at IU during the prime Knight years, too. I rarely went to the games because I didn’t want to take all those hours from studying. Student tickets were pretty cheap back then and the student/athletes were still more legit students so Knight could make sure they graduated. TV hadn’t taken over the schedule so games were at a reasonable time during the week (7:00 or 7:30 as I recall) and usually one on the weekend. No games starting at 9:00 or 10:00 at night. It had only been a few years before that freshmen were allowed to play on the varsity team and Isiah Thomas was an outlier for going pro after 2 years at IU.
    The world changed around Knight and he never made the adjustment.

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  12. nancy said on November 2, 2023 at 10:00 am

    This discussion reminds me of another reason Knight’s time was passing when he flamed out: Kids raised to affirm their feelings, reject bullying, know abuse when they see it, etc., didn’t want to work for someone they knew would lead with anger. I mean, if you’re an elite recruit, why sign up for four years of getting screamed at? There are other fish in the sea, and other coaches.

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  13. Jeff said on November 2, 2023 at 10:09 am

    I knew John Feinstein would find the way to describe Bobby Knight’s career arc. Wonder how long ago he wrote this.

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  14. Jeff Borden said on November 2, 2023 at 10:39 am

    The usual defense for the bullying style of coaching embodied by Bobby Knight is the ubiquitous, “Yes, but. . .he wins.” Well, so did John Wooden at UCLA, but he did it with class and grace.

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  15. Sherri said on November 2, 2023 at 11:48 am

    Bobby Knight’s coaching gig prior to Indiana: West Point.

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  16. Jeff said on November 2, 2023 at 12:52 pm

    Ouch. So I’m in Indianapolis, which is of course the Bloomington market as well, and as I set up and serve lunch, I’m listening to my father-in-law’s blaring TV in the next room. There’s a the new noon anchor on 13, the NBC affiliate here. She had, I think, some prompter problems; the opening after the sad synthesizer music signaling the nature of our lead story was her saying “Former Purdue coach . . . [long, painful pause] . . . IU coach Bobby Knight . . . has died.” She has to my ear a vague sense of a great disturbance in the Force, but stammers on through the basic beats of the story.

    A bit further on, they came to the right place in the script on the prompter, and she picks up with more confidence “former Purdue coach . . .” but she doesn’t know how to say “Gene Keady,” and did so twice. Then threw with obvious relief to the live-in-Bloomington reporter who quickly reaffirmed the tangled threads of the story — but I imagine the after show discussion in the program director’s office will be interesting.

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  17. Pam H said on November 2, 2023 at 1:25 pm

    I always thought that Bobby Knight desperately needed to go to Anger Management classes. But then, he would probably eat the teacher. He was always in a 2 year old’s temper tantrum.

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  18. FDChief said on November 2, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    No real memories other than the generic “recall seeing something on SportsCenter” sort of thing, but wasn’t the “angry crew cut-sporting white guy” the median profile for “coach” at that time? Knight seems to have been pretty far out st the “asshole” endmember of the group, but I recall some high school coaches who had a pretty similar style for a lot lower stakes.

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  19. Deggjr said on November 2, 2023 at 4:47 pm

    Bobby Knight coached Michael Jordan in the 1984 Olympics. Knight urged Trail Blazers GM Stu Inman (who had the second pick that year in the draft) to draft Jordan. Inman said, “But we need a center.” Knight yelled back, “So play him at center!”

    The Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie instead. The Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan with the third pick.

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  20. Julie Robinson said on November 2, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    FD is right about the norm for coaches in that era, and Pam that anger management might have saved Knight. What he did was wrong, and he lost his job and reputation as a result.

    Unlike almost everyone here, I am a former basketball player, a basketball fan, and specifically an IU basketball fan. I was in Bloomington from 1974-79 and always bought the student ticket package. (It was pretty cheap, maybe $100, but you didn’t get all the games because there were more students wanting tickets than seats available.)

    IU was still crunchy granola. The business school was just beginning its ascendancy and was looked down on by those of us in the liberal arts. I only knew one person in a sorority and that was because we were in a singing group together.

    All of this to say my view is more nuanced. A small IU flag is in our kitchen window. I will always bleed cream and crimson.

    Also: the man had dementia, and I have seen that death many times. I am seeing it up close and personal right now. If anyone thinks he deserved punishment, trust me, he got it.

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  21. brian stouder said on November 2, 2023 at 5:45 pm

    Well, way back in the day, I always rooted AGAINST Notre Dame’s football team, and IU’s basketball team – probably just reflexively, as (seemingly) EVERYBODY around me genuflected at the mere mention of either of them! But- I absolutely LOVED the Cincinnati Reds (from 1973 forward), and honestly probably didn’t miss more than one or two Reds games on the radio (Knuxhall and Brennamen) in 1975 and 1976 (in ‘77 I turned 16, and got my first job, using up all my ‘free-time’)….by way of saying- I understand the sincerity and the depth of the feelings of the folks who felt the loss of BK. On balance, he certainly added more good to the world

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  22. Sherri said on November 2, 2023 at 5:57 pm

    Charles Pierce on Knight:

    “What came out after Knight was revealed by a covert videotape to have choked Neil Reed at an Indiana practice was a narrative of sociopathic and violent indulgence. It was not a story of an “interesting” and successful man with a “dark side.” It was a story of externalized evil occasionally illuminated by professional success. Bob Knight was a giant and, when he fell, he fell like one, and that’s all there is to say about it. Hyde died in Jekyll’s tattered clothes.”

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  23. Brian Stouder said on November 2, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    (P.S. and NOW, our fine young daughter is pursuing a law degree from IU, so there’s that!)

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  24. alex said on November 2, 2023 at 6:26 pm

    Speaking of crunchy Bloomington…

    Remember the Tao? Gourmet vegetarian restaurant founded by J. Michael Shoemaker, who’s now known as Swami Chetanananda, a cult leader in his own right who apparently gets sued a lot by women he bangs.

    I knew his brother, Chris, who told me that “Swami” had estranged himself from his family and become fabulously rich running whatever his game is.

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  25. Sherri said on November 2, 2023 at 6:30 pm

    Anger management would not have saved Knight. Maybe decades of therapy.

    We’re not talking about an isolated incident of overreacting to something. We’re talking about someone with a long documented history of verbal and physical abuse towards everyone around him. He hit his Sports Information Director, the poor guy who had to deal with the media that Knight had treated like shit. He hit opposing coach Joe B. Hall, of Kentucky. He hit a police officer in Puerto Rico. He choked a player. He threw a vase at a secretary. He threw his assistant coach out of a chair. He kicked his son, when his son was on the basketball team. He broke his other son’s nose and dislocated his shoulder in a scuffle on a hunting trip. He head butted a player. He hits another player under the chin. Another player says Knight punched him in the face, broke a clipboard over his head, and squeezed his testicles and the testicles of other Hoosiers. He grabbed a player by the jersey and jerked him into his seat.

    Those were just the physical altercations, and just the ones we know of. The number of times Knight cursed people out is uncountable. The leaked practice recording, made after a 40 point win by Indiana, was too typical to be notable.

    This is not a man with some “anger management issues.” This is a man who needs much more help. I am a huge basketball fan. I watched his teams, I remember the undefeated team, I get that he was more than just the chair, but I’m tired of forgiving the asshole genius, and believing the genius is putting more good into the world than the asshole is removing. It’s bullshit. The asshole is destroying people who would have made contributions that would have built on the genius, and we need to start reckoning that cost.

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  26. John Carpenter said on November 2, 2023 at 6:36 pm

    Bloomington, IN – Yes, I am writing this comment from a Holiday Inn not far from the IU campus. If I walk out the door and into the parking lot, I can see the Assembly Hall just up the road. We are here for a family wedding.
    I’m a Hoosier by marriage, and all I can say is that I was extremely relieved when I found out my late mother and father in law were not big fans of Bobby Knight, who was still the IU coach when Mary and I started dating. Maribell and John were both very big basketball fans, as one is in this state. (My father-in-law played for Depauw in the 50s, when the uniforms were shiny, like in Hoosiers.) But they had no use for him.
    I also heard a lot of stories from my brother-in-law, a longtime Bloomington resident and IU grad (it’s his son’s wedding we are attending). He watched the Knight downfall up close, and confirmed my suspicion that Bobby was a world class choad.
    In the interest of saying “something nice,” I will state my belief that almost all major college coaches are assholes. Knight was open and honest about it, which hurt his recruiting. He won with much less talent than the Dukes or the North Carolinas, who routinely had two or three NBA first-round picks on the floor. (When North Carolina won in 1982, Michael Jordan was thought to be the third best player on the team, behind James Worthy and Sam Perkins.) With the exception of the occasional Isiah Thomas or Quinn Buckner, Knight’s teams were mostly slower and smaller future high school coaches and insurance brokers.
    That’s the best I can do, though. He was a bully.

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  27. Julie Robinson said on November 2, 2023 at 7:38 pm

    How many meals did I eat at the Tao, maybe hundreds? All were served by vacant eyed followers of the Swami, who certainly enriched himself by their free labor.

    His group also owned the bakery next door, which is where our wedding cake came from. It was half carrot cake, half poppy seed with cream cheese icing; fully crunchy granola.

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  28. Suzanne said on November 2, 2023 at 8:09 pm

    Several years ago, I ran across a documentary about Knight and the ‘81 championship team which I recall well because I was still an IU student then. One of the assistant coaches discussed the relationship between Knight and Isiah Thomas. Knight had never recruited a tough, inner city Chicago kid like Thomas before and tried to do what he’d always done with new players by trying to break him down and build him back up into what Knight wanted. But he couldn’t do it. Thomas wouldn’t break. He was tougher than Knight. Part way through the season, when IU was not excelling (which I vividly remember), someone was able to convince Knight to let go of the idea of treating Thomas like he had every other player and just let him play. Surprisingly, Knight listened, the team took off, and in March, we were partying in the streets of Bloomington as NCAA champs!

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  29. Sherri said on November 2, 2023 at 8:20 pm

    SBF guilty on all counts. Jury didn’t waste any time.

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  30. Jeff said on November 2, 2023 at 8:56 pm

    On TCM right now (on my phone): “Week-End in Havana” (1941) is an unexpected delight. Cesar Romero as the second lead (Joker to some of us in the TV Batman), the “Miracle on 34th Street” lawyer as lead, John something, Alice Faye sings and Carmen Miranda is showing me why the whole Carmen Miranda schtick is a thing, with the bartender from “Casablanca” as a Cuban bellhop.

    Just trying to hold onto some sanity in muddled times.

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  31. basset said on November 2, 2023 at 10:28 pm

    “He broke his other son’s nose and dislocated his shoulder in a scuffle on a hunting trip.”

    he did what? didn’t hear about that one.

    maybe that’s why Wikipedia says he has just one son.

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  32. FDChief said on November 3, 2023 at 12:53 am

    Jeff: IIRC the actor is John Payne. Haven’t seen the Havana film, but he did a lot of “nice guy” leads and second leads in the late Thirties and Forties.

    I’m still irked that Comcast made TCM a stand-alone pay channel. It and the English soccer on NBCSN were the only reasons for paying for the damn thing.

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  33. Dexter Friend said on November 3, 2023 at 5:40 am

    A year or more ago I posted of my altercation with Bob Knight. It’s still on YouTube, NCAA basketball men’s Final, 1976. The whole game is there, I am shown post-game congratulating Coach Knight as he shoved me away and called me a goddam son of a bitch. I got back at him by taking a towel off their bench for a souvenir. Still have it, never washed it.
    I had no right to charge like a bull over and under tables to reach the court, but I was so damned elated.
    That night in a drunken airport hotel room, I changed. I flipped . I switched to becoming a Michigan fan. The next year I just happened to sit beside Michigan guard Steve Grote in the hotel coffee shoppe. In the season, he shot free throws with a little jump and rarely missed. I told him I noticed his feet never left the ground anymore, as he was in a free throw slump. The next game in Lexington was against Regional winner UNCC (Charlotte). Grote jumped a little and made every free throw as I recall.
    I saw Coach Knight in St. Louis ,1978 at The Checkerdome, in a hallway, he was walking towards me. I looked down and away. I wanted not a fucking thing to do with him.
    In New York City, ND Irish fans are called subway alumni. At work, an Irish fan called me a Michigan subway alumni fan, which was a joke.
    I don’t give a fuck if UM grads call me a Walmart Wolverine fan, or call me fuck-a doddle-do. Nobody from my background ever got into U Michigan, but many went to PU and IU and Ball State and Butler and schools with less students, JCs and trade schools. Like I have written, my college days were spent working in a hospital in Monterey and patching up people in Viet Nam. Everybody’s different. I have been a loyal UM sports fan for about 48 years now. The die is cast.
    Without cable and streaming TV and sports, I wouldn’t be happy. Go Blue. 8-0 football record with a possible Heisman QB. To cement my feelings for UM, when I could get Detroit papers I followed the news of the university, from what the regents were doing to what the President was proposing and saying. I bought a $100 brick outside Section 31’s plaza. It has my name on it and mentions a rollicking crew. Go Blue.

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