Thursday, November 2, 2023

Good Night Bob Knight

         It was Christmas night 1980 and the Indiana University Hoosiers were in the early season, preparing for the beginning of the Big 10 Season. I was working on a profile of Knight for PM magazine a syndicated television program and we knew Dan Rather of CBS was working on a piece for 60 minutes. Our competitive juices flowed and we wanted to get on the air first. I'd asked Knight to let us video tape a practice session and I wanted him to wear a wireless microphone. He was reluctant to do so, but said if we'd come down to Bloomington's Assembly Hall on Christmas night, it was a deal. I'm sure he didn't think a TV crew would agree.

    We showed up on the cold night, and being the holiday our photographer Randy  brought his steady, our producer brought her son and Lana and I brought Kristin, aged 6. We planned to have a staff gathering after the practice.

   Knight was true to his word, welcomed us, wore the wireless and continued the session. At one point, one of his stars did something wrong on a play and Knight began charging down the floor all the while shouting and cursing with such volume his purple language echoed to the roof of the cavernous Assembly Hall. I was court side with Randy and turned to look at Lana, but she didn't need a cue as she was already moving our daughter toward the tunnel and away from shouting.

    Later when we were in the car I told Kristin I was sorry she heard some bad language and said those were not words your mom or dad would ever use, nor should she. I explained he was a coach and the team were young men and they were all working hard to get better and that some coaches yelled. She looked at me and said "Daddy, would he hurt anyone?"

    Bob's temper was his toughest opponent and it got plenty of attention. So did his brilliance as a basketball strategist and the 3 national championships, including that 1980 season. 

    I covered Knight and frequently interviewed him on non sports related topics including education, discipline, military history and literacy. At IU he was a proponent and activist for the Library. We had both read Sun Tzu and would discuss the book The Art of War. He had opinions about foreign policy and politics, most of which I did not agree with.

    Bob became the nation's youngest major coach when he began at Army when he was 25. Duke's vaunted Coach K, played for Knight and spent time as his assistant. 

     He helped a lot of people in many ways, charitably. I learned of a family that he had come to the assistance of in a major and costly way and asked him about it. He asked me why I wanted to know. I told him I thought there might be a story in what he had done. He shot a steely gaze and said "If you ever publish or broadcast anything about that you'll never get in assembly hall again."

    There were many things Knight did that I thought was excessive, hot headed, ill tempered, rude and wrong. I thought he was frequently a bully. He was however a master of basketball. He had a court sense, a knowledge of where the ball and play should be that was among the all time greats. 

    He loved a good story. When I was running my production company I pitched an idea to Knight that he liked, but for reasons including 9/11 we never got it green lighted. It was to be a "dinner of champions" that featured sports heroes and major stars at a black tie and formal dinner where as the evening progressed the diners would converse, tell stories, talk about sports and regulatory bodies, team owners, great moments, jokes and old history. I suggested that he and his friend Johnny Bench could serve as the hosts and keep the conversation flowing, all the while cameras captured the evening. Later it would be edited and presented over a couple of viewings as these legends enjoyed each others company and told stories.  During the course of our development work and as my company pitched it I got a note from Knight saying about the wearing of tuxedos, "I'm not particularly knocked in the ass about that."

    He was a complex man. There was more to him than the angry, chair tossing championship coach. I count it one of the highlights of my professional life to have crossed paths with him. There were many years I loved to watch his IU team play. It was some of the most exciting and best basketball ever. 

    As I learned of his declining health, I was glad to see him return to Bloomington and to again embrace that special fandom and culture. Those who know him well said he was happiest in Bloomington, the town where he became a legend. 

    See you down the trail. 


  1. Thank you, Tom. Such a rich message.

  2. I knew nothing and cared less about Coach Knight, and then I read this. Thank you.

  3. Bobby Knight -- "critical thinker".

  4. Gosh, Tom: I am so impressed that you were able to not only survive Knight, but in a way put him in his place. As a sometimes bully, I know some of the dynamics involved in that space. Having read the Star's, the Washington Post's, the New York Times's, the Bloomington newspaper's and your and Frank Phillippi's thoughts, I have such a different opinion of Knight than I, as a Seymour boy, might otherwise have had. Thank you. Kindest regards.

  5. I think the General would have described you as "straight shooter" after reading this tribute. Nicely done! To many in the outside world Knight had become a caricuture of the manic coach doing anything to win. Most Hoosiers knew him better and appreciated the man in full.

  6. A good precises of Knight..I can't say it changed my opinion of him, but it's good to get a second view of the man.