Knight leaves mixed legacy

  • John Sleeper
  • Tuesday, February 5, 2008 8:54am
  • Life

I’ll never do anything for 42 years straight, which makes it understandable to me that Bob Knight (sorry, I can’t in good conscience call a 67-year-old man “Bobby”) said he’d had enough, that he was tired and he wanted to quit.

Knight had moderate success at Texas Tech, but nothing like he’d experienced at Indiana. He could never get the type of athlete he’d recruited to Indiana. Then there’s the fact that the women’s team at Tech always drew more fans than the men’s team. That couldn’t have gone down well with him.

So he quit.

Knight’s legacy is one of mixed reviews, the most admirable of all was that he never cheated. Never stretched the rules. Knight won the right way, in that sense. He demanded loyalty and got it, more often than not. He treated former player Landon Turner, paralyzed from a traffic accident, like a son, often digging up Super Bowl tickets for him. Knight did many great things for people — both friends and people he never knew — and many acts of kindness he made were behind the scenes.

Very admirable, as were many of his teams, especially the 1975-76 national champions, the last that finished the season undefeated. He was a great innovator, practically inventing the motion offense. He also had a creative mind for defense.

But Knight could never get out of his own way. For every great thing he did, there was another bullying, childish act. You don’t choke your players. You don’t throw chairs. In one truly unbelievable moment of ignorance, he once said that, in the case that rape is inevitable, the woman simply should lie back and enjoy it.

Cursed with a hairtrigger temper, Knight would simply shut off relationships for years over some slight, real or imagined. Yes, he demanded loyalty, but when it came to reciprocating, Knight was inconsistent. Those who know him shrugged it off and credited it to just being Bob Knight.

His profane, militaristic coaching methods don’t work anymore. They’re as outdated as the leisure suit. Top athletes refused to be constantly badgered, which was Knight’s teaching mode. Sure, get through four years of Knight, and the survivors can handle anything in life. But there are better ways to spend four years.

He was brilliant and boorish, often in back-to-back moments. When he looks back on his life, I wonder how Bob Knight will assess himself.

I wonder if he has the honesty to accurately do it. Or if he has the courage to do it at all.

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