February 5, 2008

A MAKER OF MEN:

Knight's Best Was as Good as It Gets (John Feinstein, 2/05/08, washingtonpost.com)

Most who played for him swore at him frequently while they were with him and swore by him after they left. His often convoluted notions of loyalty could make life very difficult, but almost everyone who has ever been around him for any length of time would agree they learned from him and that if you dealt with all the baggage, he would be there for you when you needed him.

Knight was never easy on any level for anyone, but he was often worth all the trouble.

I certainly fall into that category. The season I spent with him (1985-86) was one of the most fascinating and frustrating periods of my life. The access he allowed me provided the material to make "A Season on the Brink" a bestseller. After the book was released, Knight called me every possible derogatory name he could think of because he said I had told him I would leave his profanity out of the book. It became an ugly dispute, and to this day, I know there are people who believe I betrayed Knight.

We made up eventually, carving out what could best be described as a civil relationship in recent years. When I wrote a book about Red Auerbach several years ago, Knight and I talked at length because Knight would have done anything for Red.

Often, I'm asked my most vivid memory from the time I spent with Knight. There are so many - both good and bad - but one sticks with me because it says so much about who Knight really wanted to be.

He and I were sitting in a Bob Evans in Indianapolis at about 1 o'clock in the morning on the eve of Indiana's game in a holiday tournament against Mississippi State. Knight was talking at length about his team's lack of toughness when a boy approached the table very gingerly. Almost always in public situations, Knight was extremely approachable as long as people were polite.

"Coach, I'm sorry to interrupt," the boy began. "But I wonder if I could ask you a big favor."

I began reaching for a pen, assuming the youngster wanted an autograph. I was wrong. His name was Garland Loper, and he was 12 years old. He explained to Knight that his father and brother would like to meet him.

"Of course," Knight said. "Where are they?"

Garland pointed across the restaurant.

"You see, Coach, they're both deaf and mute," he explained. "They talk through me. They'd like to say hello to you if it's okay." Knight instantly waved over the two older Lopers. They signed to Garland, who spoke to Knight, telling him how much they loved Indiana basketball and how proud they were of him and his players. Knight was clearly touched by all three. He took down their home address and phone number and sent the entire family Indiana memorabilia and souveniers. He also invited them to a game.

Prior to the game, Knight took the Lopers into the locker room. He introduced them to his players, and then Garland again acted as the family spokesman so he, his dad and his brother could speak to the players. When he was finished, the room was absolutely silent.

"Boys," Knight said as he always did when his team had visitors. One by one, the players lined up to shake hands with the Lopers and introduced themselves.

When the Lopers had left, there was a long silence, and then Knight said, "Boys, I don't ever want to hear again how tough your lives are."

That was his pregame talk.

To this day, everyone on that team with whom I keep in touch remembers that scene.


Colin Cowherd, on ESPN Radio today, was saying that Mr. Knight wasn't a good coach anymore because the only kids who'd play for him are the ones who plan on staying in school for four years rather than going pro after one. Okay....

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 5, 2008 7:27 PM
Comments

My favorite Coach Knight moment was his farewell talk at Dunn Meadow after his firing. It was unbelievable--the numbers of people, frat brothers lined up on the roofs of their houses across the street, the simplicity of Coach's words and the suddenness with which he was gone.

The next day the student newspaper ran a photo of Coach and Mrs. Knight's arrival. She is openly sobbing, and he has his arm around her, looking like he's about to break up too. I wonder if Sports Illustrated or ESPN would have run photos like this--as opposed to, say, every photo with his face red and mouth open in mid-shout ever taken--how different and more balanced the public's view of him would be.

Posted by: AC at February 5, 2008 9:14 PM

AC,

ESPN made too much money and status off Bob Knight for them to show that picture you describe. And frankly, Colin Cowherd would've said the same thing about Tom Osborne at the time of his retirement (no flashy wideout wants to block for a running QB, etc), so he's just showing his overall disdain of longevity and consistency.

It will be a long while before we see a teacher like Bob in Div. 1 basketball.

Posted by: Brad S at February 5, 2008 10:30 PM

God bless Coach Knight. The contrast between him and the sniveling sports writers and ESPN hacks who've spat on him is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The boys at PTI had Roy Wms on for "5 good minutes" tonight and Roy was quite eloquent about Coach, as he called Knight. Said he'd loved to have played for him, which is probably the highest praise Wms could give.

Now go beat Duke Roy!

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 5, 2008 10:57 PM

The boys at PTI had Roy Wms on for "5 good minutes" tonight and Roy was quite eloquent about Coach, as he called Knight. Said he'd loved to have played for him, which is probably the highest praise Wms could give.

Well, Mike Krzyzewski did play for him at Army and has always had good things to say about Coach Knight, so he goes one better. And Coach K is a loyal Republican from Chicago--imagine such a thing-- with a son-in-law who played basketball for Army, an Army Captain, and just got back from serving in Iraq, and on whose behalf Coach K went and spoke at Ft. Sill to his unit before they went to deploy, but now I'm just piling on. ;)

Go Duke and GTHC!

Posted by: John Thacker at February 5, 2008 11:37 PM
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