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That’s right. I just referred to The General, former Coach Bob Knight, by just his last name. It’s quite daring of me to do so as I sit at my laptop at home. If I called him by his last name while standing face to face, I’d be in trouble. He’d probably allegedly grab my arm and inform me how I should address him.
I’m addressing him because it’s finally time to say what I’ve been thinking for a long time. Hopefully, he wouldn’t choke me when I say this.
“So long, Knight.”
I was a huge fan of Bob Knight’s when he coached at Indiana. I celebrated when he slammed the phone during the NCAA tournament game. While I was confused when he took his Indiana team off the floor in the middle of the game against the Soviets, I was confident he knew what he was doing. I marveled at the plan The General had put into place in order to neutralize Shaq when the Hoosiers took on LSU in the tournament. Oh, and Ivan Renko? Genius. Pure genius.
In eighth grade, we had to read biographies and create several different projects based on the biography we chose. My subject? Bob Knight, of course. I read Bob Knight: His Own Man. It wasn’t necessarily the type of biography our teacher expected, but she allowed it. I even wrote my first poem as part of this biography project.
Do you remember those “Bo Knows” t-shirts that Nike made for their Bo Jackson ad campaign? Some enterprising person created a “Bobby Knows” t-shirt and sold it in local sports apparel stores. On the back, it listed all of the things that Knight “knows,” like winning, championships, throwing chairs, and
Illinois (because of some kind of feud with their coach. How dare he call Bobby a “bully”?).
I owned one of those shirts. It was my favorite. I wore it all the time. Because I was a big fan of Bobby Knight.
Then they fired Bob Knight.
I was pretty ticked when they fired him. I didn’t think they handled it well. Of course, I’m not sure what I expected. Is there a “right” way to fire a legend? How do you fire a man who has become bigger than the institution? How do you fire a bully?
But that’s hindsight, really. In the heat of the moment, I was pretty angry about the whole situation. When he took over the Texas Tech program, I kept track of his successes. I cheered him on when his Red Raiders made their surprising tournament run. I confess that was so upset about things at one point that I almost considered becoming a Purdue fan.
No. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you.
After coming to my senses, I came to realize that Indiana was still my team. But I wasn’t exactly happy about it. I was convinced that things could have been handled differently.
Over the years, though, my feelings towards Knight and his relationship with both Indiana University and the fans of Indiana, have changed. I hope it’s OK to say that they’ve matured. I no longer see Knight as an untouchable idol. And I most certainly do not see him as infallible. I probably felt that way in high school. But I’ve grown up since then.
I wish Bob Knight had grown up since then, too.
It’s clear that he hasn’t. I get there’s hard feelings. Some of those might not ever go away. It sure sounds like he’s been nursing that grudge for a while. I mean, it’s almost been two decades. I get it, though. I had a hard time letting go of some grudges that I had buried deep inside me.
But here’s the deal: You can’t keep saying you really, truly care about the fans and then keep ignoring them. The fans desperately wanted to celebrate Bob Knight when he was inducted into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame. But he refused to go. Talk about a thumb in the fans’ collective eye.
He had the chance to give the fans what they wanted when the 1975-76 undefeated national championship team got together for a 40th anniversary reunion. But he didn’t show up. He didn’t care enough to show up for the players he always says he loves. He didn’t show up for the fans he keeps saying he loves.
But he keeps saying he cares about the fans. He keeps saying that Indiana fans are the best. He even promises that, on his dying day, he’ll be thinking about how great Indiana fans are.
It sure appears to me that Knight only cares about Indiana fans when they’re paying customers. He has traveled across the state on various speaking engagements for a nice little fee. If you don’t believe me, just google it. Here. I already did for you.
Go ahead. Give him your money if you want. Fawn all over him and his tired act. Beg him to come back to Indiana University. Keep stroking that ego. Let him play you like a fiddle. You’re free to do that.
I’m done. He can say what he wants. He can do what he wants. He can vow to never ever step foot on Assembly Hall ever again. Whatever. I’m done with him. The Bobby Knight we all knew and loved is no longer knowable or lovable. The school has moved on. The basketball program has moved on. I’ve moved on. Many of the fans have moved on. Perhaps it’s time for everyone else to do the same.
So long, Knight.