“The two sides of bombastic basketball Coach Bob Knight” – Terry Foster
Many moons ago I was a young reporter at The Detroit Free Press assigned to cover a Michigan-Indiana basketball game at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.
Indiana won the game mostly by playing man-to-man defense. That’s how IU Coach Bob Knight won most of his 902 games as a coach. However, Knight switched to a zone defense about midway through the second half against Michigan. I wanted to know why.
So, in front of a throng of media and a coach who always looks pissed, win or lose, I asked my question.
Knight gave me a death stare that felt like a dagger piercing my chest.
“So you think you know more about basketball than me?” he glared.
I did not ask the question to show him up or make him look bad. I simply did not know the answer. I wanted to put a line in my story that said Knight switched to a second-half zone and then give the reason why.
He gave me a snarly answer and then looked at me as if I were the biggest idiot in the world. I at least felt like the biggest idiot in the room because my media brothers and sisters gave me no support and snickered because I was convinced they could all suck up to Knight.
“I asked the question because you are a basketball expert,” I said to Knight. “That’s all.”
My drama was not over with Knight. The Free Press asked me to do a profile on Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote. Jud and Knight had a good relationship and I wanted to ask him questions about the Spartans coach.
I followed Knight outside the media room toward Indiana’s dressing room and asked if I could ask him a few questions about Heathcote. I knew this would not go well. Instead, he put his arm around my shoulder and said “fire away. But I don’t have much time.”
He answered about four or five questions and apologized for being so brisk during the press conference.
“But you know something,” Knight said. “You stood up for yourself unlike many of these other pricks. I liked that.”
I saw both sides of Knight in a just a few minutes time.
Bob Knight could be charming and he could be a jerk. They could easily put that on his tomb stone this week after his death at age 83. I did not like Knight. I did not like how he treated people. I did not like his bombastic ways.
He was a bully.
He was also a brilliant teacher. I had a few conversations with former Pistons guard Isiah Thomas who played for him at IU. Thomas and Knight did not always get long. But his mother Mary Thomas believed Isiah needed that tough love to survive college and make it in the NBA.
I don’t believe Thomas liked him when he played for him. But he learned to love Bob Knight after leaving and using his life lessons to become a better player and better man.
He once said he wants to be buried upside down.
“When my time on Earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want them to bury me upside down and my critics can kiss my ass,” he said.
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