[Roundup] A Handful of Must-Read Obituaries on the Life and Legacy of Coach Knight
Here is a roundup of the most essential pieces that have been posted since the announcement of Coach Knight's passing yesterday.
I know, I know … I should have gone to bed earlier last night.
And I know … I should be spending more time working and/or prepping for this weekend’s campout with my daughter. I’ll get to that. There will be time.
But you don’t always know how someone’s death is going to hit you until it happens, even if it’s expected, and so there was no real way to prepare for the many complicated thoughts and feelings I’ve had — that we’ve all had — since the announcement yesterday that Coach Knight had passed away at age 83.
An old friend from IU texted me last night to ask how I’m doing. It took me a while to formulate a response.
The best way I would describe it was that it felt like a distant relative had passed — maybe a great grandfather or great uncle. Certainly not someone I had many personal interactions with, but someone whose influence nonetheless has been felt in some or fashion in my life for literally as long as I can remember.
I don’t have many memories prior to being 6 or 7, which is right around the time I started attending IU basketball games with my dad.
Some of my earliest (and happiest) memories are attending games with him and marveling at the oft-angry white-haired coach in the red sweater just a few rows down performing his job as well as anyone ever has while coaching the players who became my childhood heroes like Jay Edwards, Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Brian Evans, and many more.
Bob Knight was larger than life when I was a kid, growing up in and around Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall. Indiana basketball was larger than life when I was a kid, still the epicenter of the college basketball world.
Coach Knight remained a larger than life influence for me when I returned to Indiana as a student in 1999 — so much so that when he was fired soon thereafter, I was asked to give the “student perspective” at the big rally on the steps of Assembly Hall. It was an epic moment for me personally, although strangely the whole thing was a whirlwind that I barely remember in specifics, more in just general terms about the emotion of the moment and how I — we — all felt.
And even after I graduated from IU and moved away from Indiana for a while before ultimately returning, with Coach Knight moving away to Texas Tech before ultimately returning, his influence remained even if it had drifted a little further into the background.
It can still be seen today as we prepare to begin our 12th season of The Assembly Call — starting too late to cover a Bob Knight team, but always with an undercurrent of his principles and achievements in our minds.
And it can be seen as I sit here typing these words into a Substack dedicated to my lifelong love for Indiana basketball … which, at its core, is a lifelong love of the program Coach Knight built, the ideals he and it stood for, the wins and successes his teams and we as fans shared in, and the dream that maybe someday we can reach those heights again.
Anyway, my intention in putting this piece together was not to share my own thoughts, feelings, and recollections. They just kind of spilled out as I began typing. But I’ll leave them here in case maybe there is something in my experience that you can relate with.
Instead, I want to share the thoughts, feelings, and recollections of people far more qualified than I am to speak on the enormous and complex life and legacy of Bob Knight. Buried within each story are some amazing anecdotes that stitch together to tell the story of Bob Knight’s experience on this earth and the impact, big and small, that he had on people along the way.
If you have thoughts, feelings and recollections to share, please do so in the comment section below or over at this community discussion dedicated to Coach Knight.
And I recommend you carve out some time to read and watch these pieces, all of which I read or listened to from beginning to end and found illuminating in some meaningful way.
Rest in peace, Coach.
Your legacy will live on forever in the hearts and minds of all of us who are proud to love Indiana basketball and everything it has meant to so many people over so many years.
Now some reading recommendations:
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The Bob Knight I want to talk about had a trait rarely, maybe never mentioned on pages like this. This man, who was a major college head basketball coach at 24, revered his elders, in coaching and in life, like no one I ever observed.
The sport evolves, each decade different from the one before. That tends to make successful coaches of one generation disinclined to listen to graybeards from generations before because "they played a different game." That was never Bob Knight.
Knight roared into Bloomington from West Point in 1971, with a brush cut, the wiry, athletic body of a former Ohio State basketball player and a brilliant ability to teach winning basketball.
Assembly Hall opened that year. I, too, arrived as an IU freshman, taking a seat in the balcony for Knight’s first game — Dec. 1, 1971 against Ball State.
I saw what everybody saw — a different way for Indiana to approach basketball.
“Coach Knight represented an era — post-World War II, Cold War — and a lot of kids my age were sons and grandsons of military servicemen and women, and we were raised that way,” Fife told TSN. “We were raised in families – some good, not all good, not all bad – that valued discipline. There was self-motivation, but the external motivation was usually aggressive, abrasive, military-style teaching.
“My dad coached that way. My dad was a high school coach as long as I can remember, and my dad is my hero. And so Coach Knight kind of represented the next step for my life and my career as a basketball player and ultimately wanting to be a coach when I finished playing. To me, it was a really simple transition to go play at Indiana for Coach Knight.”
Knight may have been obsessive about basketball, but he also lived a joyful, well-balanced life. He was an avid hunter and fisherman who loved to play golf and chew the fat with his buddies. He was a voracious reader whose insatiable curiosity led him to forge relationships with celebrated figures across many sports as well as celebrities, heads of state, and yes, even a handful of sportswriters. He also formed countless friendships with scores of non-famous people he met along away, men who went to great lengths to tail along and subject themselves to Knight’s merciless teasing.
Most of all, Knight loved being with other basketball coaches, especially the older ones. That included the man who wrote those Chip Hilton books. Knight first befriended Bee when he was coaching at Army, and over time Bee became more of a father figure than a mentor. When Knight won his first NCAA title in 1976, Bee was the first person he mentioned at his postgame press conference. Several years after Bee’s death in 1983, his Chip Hilton series was acquired by a different publisher and re-issued in full. Bee’s children asked Knight to write a foreword that would appear in each book. He happily obliged. It was a remarkable, full-circle moment. Knight had fallen in love with a story when he was a young boy, and then wrote himself into it as an older man. It’s one of many measures by which he left this life a winner.
Jay Bilas: I liked the Bob Knight I knew
Knight knew he had made significant mistakes, and I know he regretted them. He just had a difficult time admitting that and apologizing publicly. An example I recall might be revealing. In December 2009, Indiana upset Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden. I called the game from courtside. It was a huge win for second-year coach Tom Crean, and it was the first time Bob Knight, then doing studio work with ESPN, had been in the same building as Indiana since being fired in 2000.
The day after that game, Knight and I had stayed in New York to watch UConn play Kentucky in the Garden. It was John Calipari's first season at Kentucky, and we wanted to see it in person. While sitting in the stands watching the game, Knight leaned over to me and said he wanted to get my thoughts on something. "I think I really f---ed up last night with Tony La Russa after the game," he said. Knight then told me that his close friend and baseball legend La Russa had called him right after Indiana's win and told him he hoped Knight would go into the Hoosiers' postgame locker room. Knight said he told La Russa there was no way he was going to do that -- that it would take away from Indiana's win and make him the story. It would be unfair to the players and to Crean. La Russa didn't buy the explanation and pressed him on the issue, telling him he needed to be the "bigger man" and visit the locker room. Knight said he blew up at La Russa and told him, "Damn it, Tony, I'm not over it yet! I don't think I'll ever get over it!" He then hung up on La Russa.
Knight was genuinely affected by the exchange. From our discussion, it became clear to me that Knight wasn't angry at La Russa, and he wasn't angry at Indiana. But he was still hurt over his dismissal. While Knight was volatile at times, he was also intensely emotional and could be quick to tear up. He didn't know how to show it or voice it through the bravado he displayed. In that, he was always a throwback.
And here is a short video from Dan Dakich, who played and worked for Coach Knight for as long as anyone, sharing what made Indiana basketball under Knight so special.
And, of course, I highly recommend the showand did last night. They are uniquely qualified to contextualize what Bob Knight and Indiana basketball meant to Indiana fans and the state of Indiana.
We’ll discuss it more ourselves tonight on AC Radio.
Oh, and make sure you watch this video thatposted from back when Coach Knight got fired at Indiana. His answer for how he’d like his epitaph to read — especially the P.S. — is incredibly revealing of the complex psychology that drove Coach Knight to both his greatest successes and his greatest failures.
If you find any other links about Coach Knight worth sharing, please add them in the comment section below.
Update: here is a piece just published at The Big Lead by our own Ryan Phillips.
A few years ago I wore an Indiana basketball shirt to my gym in San Diego and an elderly gentleman stopped me and asked if I had gone there. After we introduced ourselves, and I told him what I did for a living, he sheepishly informed me he had played for Indiana in 1960. After a winding conversation about his experiences I asked about facing that 1960 Ohio State team. He gushed about Havlicek and Lucas, but when I asked about Knight his eyes darkened a tad, before he broke into a wry grin. "He never stopped f--king talking during games, even when he wasn't playing. Then when he got off the bench he'd foul everyone. He was just a battering ram. No skill." Then he paused, "But he was brilliant." That was Bob Knight.
And here is another by Matt Dollinger for The Ringer. Feels like I could have written a lot of it myself, just not nearly as well. But it captures the tornado of emotions so many of us from Indiana have felt over the last 24 hours.
That will be an inextricable part of his legacy just as much as his standard of winning. Which is probably why that video of his return to Assembly Hall tears me up so much. Because being an Indiana basketball fan, and being a kid raised on Bob Knight, isn’t a feel-good story. It’s complicated. Some of his players swore by him for making them into better basketball players and better men. He demanded a level of excellence that had ripple effects across the state for generations. He also humiliated us. With Knight, you have to take the bad with the good. The shame with the pride.