The whole Bobby Knight Thing was—and still is—complicated. It will likely remain that way for another generation, until those of us who grew up idolizing him and his ruthless, candy-striped fiefdom are gone. After that, the complexities of his reign will dissolve into the ether, like steam.
Disinterested sports people of the future will methodically tally up the wins and losses, how many titles he won, and how many lives he improved, as well as how many kids he terrorized and lives he destroyed, and they will calculate if he is, in the end, good or bad. The year will be 2058, and Knight’s career will be seen as either a net positive or a net negative.
It will be an emotionless math equation by then, truth be told, and a relatively simple one at that. Easy-peasy windpipe-squeezy.
But this past Saturday, that simplicity still remained a long way off.
Complicating Knight’s return to Assembly Hall—and also everything else about him—is the fact that he was a raging hemorrhoid-fire of a human being: a loathsome, fragile, vicious tumor of spite and narcissism, a petty brute with a short fuse and a long memory … and also three national championships, a million student-athlete graduates, and zero NCAA violations. He was a basketball genius wrapped in rage wrapped in a bully’s insecurities. It was an acceptable trade-off for Indiana University for 20-something-odd years, when the wins outweighed the very public tantrums and the very private abuse.
Then, all at once, it wasn’t.
Lots of IU fans never forgave the university for firing him; they were the ones who replaced their “Pat Buchanan for President” windbreakers with Texas Tech pullovers, blamed the assault victim instead of the assailant, and whined incessantly about “this daggum participation-trophy generation.”
There is no changing their minds regarding Knight and his return to Assembly Hall, and I don’t care to try. To them, it was a long overdue celebration, and they were ready to cry their eyes out. Good for them.
Lots more IU fans, however, simply moved on after the firing and remained loyal to the program. You know, normal folk. They looked forward to Saturday’s ceremony like they look forward to oil changes: get him in, be quick about it, get him out—let’s get this over with and get back on the road (to national regional relevance).
Lastly, there were those of us who came to despise Knight and did not care a whit whether he ever returned or not. Not sure how many of us there are, but it is certainly more than Knight disciples would care to think. Seriously, go and look at those pictures from Saturday, look at all the smiling players, and take note of who wasn’t there. It is jarring, and telling (and a story for another day).
Today is about last Saturday at Assembly Hall and—fittingly, in rather complicated fashion—how it felt like a funeral. It was far more emotional than Knight fans or normal IU fans or I would have ever expected, largely because the Bob Knight we came to love or hate was gone. In his place was a broken, brittle, off-brand husk of the person he once was, waving meekly to the crowd with tears in his eyes and bringing closure to a program that desperately needed it. He might not have known entirely why he was there to begin with, but he was there, and that was good enough for everyone in Assembly Hall.
Funerals are for the living, and Saturday was no different. It was not a joyous occasion by any stretch. But it was the necessary first step toward IU basketball moving on.