Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bully Boy

Bobby...Bobby baby...Bobby bubbi...



Man, now I wish I hadn't wasted that Elizabeth Bennet quote on Rudy Giuliani.

So, we'll no longer have Bob Knight to kick around, eh? On the whole, I think this is a good thing. IU was my undergrad institution, and I was there towards the tail end of Knight's reign, graduating in '95. I always loved going to games and supporting the team, but love Knight? Not so much. I could admire the discipline his teams showed, while wondering why he himself could never display a similar self-control. His antics are legendary: the "just lie back and enjoy it" comment, where he compared referees' calls to rape; the chair-tossing; the spitting on a man in a parking lot during the Pan-Am Games in 1979; the "all-in-fun" mock whipping of Calbert Cheney in 1992, courtside during a game; the knocking-over of his son Pat during a game in the same period; and the final confrontation with a student that became the precipitating incident in his 2000 firing.

I was a proud alum that day, when Myles Brand did what so many gutless administrators, alumni, sportswriters and Dick Vitale could not do, and finally called Knight on his endless stream of embarrasing, overbearing, adolescent boy crap. And I remember being amused at how his student supporters disproved Brand's assertion that Knight set a bad example with his violent temper: by marching on Brand's house and threatening his life. It was terrible, and yet the most apt tribute to Knight's off-the-court behavior that I could imagine. Like so many coaches, Knight liked to talk about honor and toughness and responsibility, but for all his considerable talent, he stood as profound example of sports indulgence, of what we let people get away with as long as they win (and put forth a reactionary image that allows us to feel nostalgic for our boomer youth).

I was not, as you might gather, a Knight fan, but I do feel obliged to mention his support of the IU libraries, his relatively high player graduation rates (although those have been contested), his sheer longeivity (he began as a coach in 1965!), and most impressively, his mentorship of coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Alford. (That Krzyzewski, in particular, has had comparable success while avoiding many of Knight's questionable choices and character flaws, only brings the tragedy of Knight's talent into greater focus.) And if you want to read a more glowing remembrance than mine of Knight's legacy, this piece is an interesting one.

I will thank Bob Knight for one thing: his timing. By making his announcement the day after the Super Bowl, he knocked Eli Manning off the front of the sports section, and forced the nation's sportswriters to take a small break from their non-stop Manning Family hagiography. And for that, a grateful nation cheers.

2 comments:

dave said...

I cringed through that entire "highlight" reel. Painful, but a good reminder of why his departure won't be mourned by many.

Cinephile said...

I know-- he's a real charmer, isn't he? There's a real stockholm syndrome quality to his bullying, too, when you think of how many people put up with it, for how many years.