The 30th anniversary of Bob Knight’s chair-tossing incident, by turns iconic and infamous, is well worth marking today. We commemorate it here with a one-time Knight biographer, and Sports Illustrated gives it a visually driven treatment here.
For one evening only in 1987, David Letterman’s TV show became Late Knight, as the Indiana University basketball coach came on for a sitdown. The catalyst: His IU Hoosiers’ recent seizure of a third national championship, thanks to Keith “The Shot” Smart. He also addressed That Chair Thing when Letterman prodded him about it late in the interview. See that repartee at the 9:30 mark here:
“People jump at conclusions automatically with the thing. But the game is going on, and I hear somebody across the floor keep hollering, ‘Coach! Coach! Coach Knight!’ And I get all kinds of suggestions; I try not to pay any attention to it. … Here’s a little old lady across the floor that reminded me of my grandmother. … And I said, ‘Did you want me for something?’ And she just said, ‘If you’re not going to sit down any more today than you have so far, could I have your chair?'” At that, Letterman and his audience skip a beat—just a beat—before laughing genuinely at Knight’s retelling of his rather tall tale.
“So, obviously, now that we know the full story, you were doing the gentlemanly thing,” said Letterman, baiting Knight as The General himself would bait any referee, setting him up with a verbal assist to score points in front of yet another crowd.
But Coach Knight wasn’t done: “Really, what happened was it was the first game that I’d coached at Indiana without a jacket. I reached for the jacket, and I would’ve sailed the jacket. And our team doctor … told me later, ‘Soon as I saw you turn around and reach for your jacket—you didn’t have it on—I tried to grab everything you could throw. He said, ‘I grabbed the trainer. The only thing I missed was the chair. You beat me to the chair.'”
Further poked for one-liners, Knight went on to describe to Letterman how his home is furnished: “What we have is a lot of bamboo furniture; it’s easily replaced.” In the wake of what happened 30 years ago, Assembly Hall in Bloomington is perhaps forever furnished in a different way as well: