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?