A Birthday On The Brink: Bob Knight At 50

Will IU’s famously irascible basketball coach mellow with age?

October 1990Add a comment

Bob Knight

Editor’s Note: As with many of Bob Knight’s interviews, the one-on-one he gave editor emerita Deborah Paul for this 1990 profile didn’t go exactly as planned. Read her column from the same issue to find out what happened.

Fifty. On the rollercoaster of life, it generally signals a downhill slide. Consider it halfway to Willard Scott, all the way to middle age and then some. To other men perhaps more mortal than IU’s legendary basketball coach, Bob Knight, the age portends lost prowess if not total panic. Paunch takes over where hair growth leaves off, graying temples give way to shocks of silver. Whereas bifocals become a way of life, convertible sports cars and extramarital affairs just might provide a second wind.

For everybody but Knight, that is. If increased girth and decreased height worries others who achieve half-century status, he doesn’t seem to notice. “I don’t feel any different than I felt when I was 30,” he says flatly, adding that this October 25 milestone means “nothing to me.” Having played 36 holes of golf the day before, when it was “hotter than hell,” and having been up from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., he foresees no problem with advancing age. He credits a lifetime of nonsmoking and non-drinking with the payoff of good health, but admits that although he’s not particularly conscious of fitness, he no longer eats as much or as often.
While the prospect of keeling over of a heart attack may trouble those with far less stressful occupations, Knight waves off the prospect with characteristic unconcern. “I could get hit by a truck this afternoon,” he shrugs. “There are too many other things for me to worry about.”

Ask others how it
 feels to turn the big 
5-oh, and groans might
 follow. Ask Knight,
 and “What the hell
 difference does it make? So I’m 50” follows. Reminded that Hallmark might find it momentous, as might family, friends, celebrity roasters, and society in general, he’s quick to quip, “I’m not necessarily a reflection of what society thinks.”

To say the least. Long noted for such achievements as three NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal, the controversial coach has made news just as often for socking a Puerto Rican cop, stuffing a Louisiana State University fan in a trash can, and flinging a chair across Assembly Hall. Rarely does a comprehensive story appear without the proverbial timeline of questionable incidents that mark his career. Some of those events may have been embellished by the press, some not. Either way, if Knight had had his way, he probably would have shot the messenger.

To say that he and the press rarely see eye-to-eye is like saying that Streisand sings a little. Raging battles between reporters and the coach are widely known, and those whose livelihood depends on his mood have war stories that far exceed any tales the grapevine could invent. One of the most famous involves Indianapolis Star sports editor Bob Collins, who remembers a front-page photo of Knight grabbing player Jimmy Wisman by his jersey. After Knight lambasted the Star on his TV show for running the photo, a flurry of phone calls including those of the obscene variety followed, both to the paper and to Collins at home. In return, Collins admonished his Knight-loving readers to call the coach directly and proceeded to publish his unlisted phone number.

The cold war was on. Eventually, in an effort to mend fences, Collins lined up at an all-star game in Louisville where Knight was signing autographs. “When I got up to him, I said I’d like this autographed personally. He said, ‘To whom?’ I said, ‘To Bob Collins.’ He went nuts—absolutely berserk, “ Collins recalls. “I thought we were going to come to blows.” A Sunday-morning phone call shortly thereafter found Knight announcing to Collins, “I’m mad.” Collins remembers replying, “On the maddest day you ever saw in your life, you’re not as mad as I am.” What followed was Knight explaining that he was mad, not at his sportswriting adversary, but at himself. “Here you were trying to make peace, and I didn’t have brains enough to see it,” Collins remembers Knight saying.

Not all media folk have been so lucky. Consider Louisville Courier-Journal sportswriter Russ Brown, who covered IU from 1971 to 1984. Accustomed to Knight’s tirades—exploding in press conferences, knocking over soft drinks, storming out of the room, or yelling at a writer—nothing could have prepared him for one post-game incident that found Brown looking down the barrel of a gun. Following a game, Brown was on his way to the opposing team’s locker room when he heard Knight yell, “Hey, Russ,” he remembers. “I turned around and before I could even know what was happening, I could see this gun and heard this shot. “It was fired from a starter’s pistol, which Brown describes as harmless, but “not a very smart thing to do.” Brown remembers turning quickly and saying to Knight, “You missed,” to which Knight replied, “Wait ’til you shake your head.”

Although the Courier-Journal offered to sue for wanton endangerment on behalf of Brown, the sportswriter wasn’t particularly alarmed by the event. What bothered him more were the many times his questions were ignored by Knight in press conferences (“Anybody else have a question?” Knight would respond) and such threats as, “I’m going to shove your typewriter up your ass,” or “If I ever see you in the locker room again, I’m going to run your head through the locker room wall.” Brown feels he was always fair in his treatment of IU basketball and Knight, and that the fact that he occasionally ran the players’ side of defections was what angered the coach. Regarding the pistol incident, Brown concedes that “it was his idea of a joke, as warped as that may sound.”

Knight charges that sportswriters formulate ideas for the public, and that if they don’t like him, neither
 will the reader. Neither
 eventuality bothers
 him much. “I laugh at 
these people,” Knight
says, referring to writers. “If these people
 who write all of this
 negative bullshit knew
 how little of it I read 
and how little I cared, 
it would create a problem for them.” He goes
 on to conclude that, “Rarely has anybody
 who’s taken the time
 to come in and talk to
 me gone away feeling
 anything but positive
 about what we’re trying to do.”

Occasionally, Knight’s admittedly offbeat sense of humor is mistaken for a tirade, a misconception that might be made by some sportswriters, but not by longtime friend Collins. “He’s funnier than hell,” Collins admits. “It’s like watching a little kid fall in a sand pile.” Explaining that Knight often does things “for effect,” Collins recalls one incident during a close game at Market Square Arena in which a foul was called on the Hoosiers. “He took off his shoe and started pounding it on the scorer’s table,” Collins recalls, adding that the entire crowd became silent. Collins remembers Knight calling him the next morning and asking whether or not he thought the display was funny, to which Collins responded, “I thought it was funnier than hell.” Knight’s response: “Well, why didn’t anybody laugh?” “Quite simply,” Collins explained, “it was because he’s got the whole world intimidated.”

It doesn’t take an adversary to recognize Knight’s use of intimidation as a weapon. “It’s just Bobby,” explains longtime friend and former University of California basketball coach Pete Newell. “What you see is what you get with him. He doesn’t try to give you any false faces.” Broadcaster and IU play-by-play man Don Fischer, who has hosted a pre-game show with Knight for 17 years and a talk show with him for nearly 10, feels that people will overlook his faults to concentrate on his positives: his stick-to-itiveness, his intensity, his desire to win against all odds, his tactical abilities on the basketball court. “Granted, you and I might have an idea what is a proper personality, but that’s just our opinion,” Fischer says. “He’s a public person who has a temper like many people do privately. The only thing he hasn’t done is hide it.”

Brown is less generous when it comes to Knight’s legendary temper. “He found out a long time ago that if he yelled loud and talked dirty he could intimidate a lot of people, and people would pretty much do what he wanted them to do,” Brown says. “It’s been that way all through his life. Nobody’s ever really stood up to him. The reason Knight is the way he is, is because people have let him be that way.”

Knight has always claimed to admire older people: They are interesting and enjoyable to be around, he says, and they know a lot more than younger people. Newell, Knight’s longtime mentor and a retired coach, sees Knight’s temper as a fact of life, one that is far less important than the greater good. “Bobby understands that at times he isn’t a walk in park,” Newell says. “He recognizes that people around him have been tolerant when he’s been unreasonable.” Newell believes there’s a special patience in Indiana, born from an almost religious appreciation for basketball. While most coaches would pocket extra money, Newell speculates, Knight turns over funds from his shoe contract, for example, to the IU library. (An endowment fund endorsed by Knight is expected to generate $1 million in the next three years, $100,000 of which will be raised through the basketball program.) “They recognize that this school hasn’t been on probation, that the players graduate, that Knight commands real respect,” Newell says. “He’s a very smart man. When he looks like he’s out of control, he’s not. He’s a guy you can talk to. He may not always do what you say, but he’ll listen.”

Bob Knight

Photo courtesy IU Athletic Department

Collins agrees that when Knight’s temper gets the better of him, and he makes headlines, he occasionally heeds advice from his cronies. “A lot of things are done quietly,” Collins says. “To say that no one touches him is not true. He’ll always fight back, but when he’s fighting, you know he’s listening. “Knight himself admits that while he cares little about what the general public thinks of him, the opinions of close friends and former players matter. Collins remembers tiring of Knight’s witticism that “I am Bob Knight and I kiss no man’s ass,” and proceeded to criticize him for it in his column with the statement, “Neither do I, but I’ve just never felt compelled to say it in public.” “That was the last time he ever said it,” Collins says. “I think he cared what I thought.” According to assistant coach Dan Dakich, a former player, “Knight is one of the few people who knows what he is doing is right. He doesn’t worry about what the public thinks.”

Dakich goes on to charge that in the sideline ranting and raving department, Knight probably ranks sixth among Big 10 coaches. “Gene Keady throws his coat at every game,” Dakich says. “If Bob Knight did that, it would be all over the papers.” Fischer agrees, but adds that while Knight’s outbursts don’t happen as often as other coaches’, the intensity is greater. “He’s gotten a reputation based on the degree of the volatility compared to the number of times other coaches might have done it,” Fischer concludes.

Whether or not
 Knight has mellowed
 as he approaches his 
50th birthday is open
 for debate. Ask sportswriters and casual acquaintances, and
 they’ll answer unhesitatingly no. “It’s the 
same old stuff,” says
 Brown. “Does he use
 less vulgarity, does he
 treat people differently? I don’t think so.” Chicago sportscaster Chet Coppock states simply, “Has King Kong mellowed?” His close friends, however, agree that the non-mellow Bob Knight is what he wants the world to see. Newell, for example, maintains that Knight is more relaxed now, more tolerant of mistakes and bad plays. “If you tolerate them without some kind of explosion occasionally,” Newell warns, “then you ought to get out of coaching.” Off court, though, the former coach sees an intensity level far diminished, a phenomenon he attributes to the fact that Knight’s life is better now: In short, he’s happier.

Perhaps a recent second marriage to Karen Edgar, a former Oklahoma women’s high school basketball coach, has something to do with that. Ask Bob Knight, and you probably won’t survive to hear the answer. Collins, however, feels that this marriage has had a mellowing effect on Knight. “Things that made him mad 20 years ago are minor irritants now,” Collins says, but adds that in public, Knight still keeps up the facade. “He now will come close to admitting that he’s done some things he wished he hadn’t done,” Collins says.

Some much-publicized incidents such as the chair-throwing and his rape quote in a TV interview with Connie Chung, however, are best not brought up, regardless of the source. “They happened and he caught hell for them, but he doesn’t want to catch hell for the rest of his life,” Newell says.

Good friends have a distinct advantage, however, when it comes to a good-natured jab. Where others might be tossed out on their ears for an insensitive question or an offhanded remark, the cronies that Brown labels “a select circle who will defend him to the grave” can get away with murder. Take Collins, who asks for Hitler when he calls Knight’s office and is famous for his historic one-line retort to Knight’s charge that no one’s ever seen a bad 4-year-old. “Your mother did,” Collins said, grabbing the microphone at a banquet and sending Knight into gales of laughter. Or take Newell, who at a similar banquet brought his chair up with him to the podium. “I just said, ‘Well, I don’t want anybody to get hurt,’” Newell remembers.

While Knight’s legendary sense of humor is widely know, at least among his friends, a soft side is rarely displayed. According to Dakich, visits to Riley Hospital for Children are frequent, and every piece of mail is answered, most accompanied by a personal thank-you and an autographed picture. “That happens every day,” says Dakich. “It’s not like, well, I’d better call the Sports Information Office and have them alert NewsCenter 13.”

The kind-and-loyal Knight anecdotes flow freely. If a player like Mike Giomi gets thrown off the team, Knight finds him another school, because, says Collins, he recognizes the fact that although someone might not be able to play for him, he might be able to play for somebody else. Ex-players like Todd Meier get jobs with The Hoosier Lottery because Knight offers a good word, families like that of AIDS victim Ryan White or paperboy Scott Lawson, who was accidentally shot and killed, receive gifts and encouragement or letters of sympathy. Fischer recalls a troubling time in his life when Knight invited him into his office, closed his door, and offered to help him any way he could. “It brought tears to my eyes,” Fischer recalls. “What’s he need to worry about this for?” And Collins, who admits that the gentle side is seldom seen, remembers making a road trip with Knight to Edinburgh for a banquet and accompanying him as he stopped at a restaurant to buy chicken soup for his son, who was stricken with the flu. “He was like a Jewish mother,” Collins recalls.

Such stories do little to persuade Brown, who spent most of his professional career covering Knight, that the coach’s good side usually prevails. He recalls meeting Knight in the restroom at Assembly Hall just a week after his own sister had been killed in a traffic accident at Purdue, an occurrence about which he is certain Knight was aware. Rather than offer him sympathy, he recalls, Knight took the opportunity to lambast him about past articles. “My feeling about life is how you treat people on a day-to-day basis, “ Brown theorizes. “It’s not going to Riley Hospital once every two months. It’s not giving $1,000 to the library. Do you treat people well like you’d want to be treated? Or do you step over them and berate them, yell profanity at them and go out of your way to
make them feel uncomfortable?”

Although Brown sees little change in
Knight since that episode, others closer to 
him do. Collins contends that looking
 back at game nights
 over the last season, 
Knight spent more 
time on the bench sitting down than he 
spent in the three previous years. But while
 Collins, Fischer, Newell, and others agree
 that his toleration of 
Jay Edwards’s drug problem exemplifies the kinder, gentler Bob Knight, Knight himself rails at the prospect, claiming that he offered even more tolerance in 1978 with four players involved in drugs. (Two players involved in a marijuana incident were released, two were kept on probation.) “If you look back over my career, I’ve given most everybody a second chance, “Knight says. On the subject of drugs, Knight maintains that the problem often rests with the parents, who either are on drugs themselves or tolerate it from their children. “Parents want to be liked, “Knight theorizes. “They don’t want the hassles. Their parents weren’t concerned about being liked. Their parents weren’t concerned about yellin’ at a kid. Their parents weren’t concerned about smackin’ some kid on the ass. Today’s parents are.” If left up to him, the overall solution to the drug problem would be simple: bomb Colombia.

Fischer, in fact, credits Knight’s new patience to the type of players he gets today, players that, as he puts it, don’t deal as well with the type of discipline that goes down. It’s a subject Knight is more than willing to discuss. Increased visibility through national newspapers and television exposure result in a star syndrome not present years ago, Knight allows. “Most kids come out of high school thinking that they’re going to bestow a particular favor on a specific university when they make a choice as to where they’re going to go,” he maintains. Although Knight feels that high school acclaim probably does not benefit the player, he thinks students in general are smarter, more interested, and far more knowledgeable about what life is all about than ever before.

Take Damon Bailey, for example, one superstar with whom Knight anticipates no problem. How do you throw a kid like Damon Bailey out of practice? “Just like I’ve thrown anybody else out,” Knight says. “He’s just a kid with a number on his back that plays basketball at Indiana.” In fact, with the exception of Quinn Buckner, Knight sees Bailey as the smartest, most aware player to ever enter the program. “He understands what this whole panorama’s all about better than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Knight says.

Another freshman player about to debut shares more than just a sharp mind with his coach. Patrick Knight, the younger of the coach’s two sons, comes into the season with either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on whom you ask. His father, however, sees the situation in black and white. “If he can play, he’ll play,” Knight says. “If he can’t, he won’t. It’ll be that simple. He understands that.” Fatherhood, Knight claims, comes more easily than coaching. “You’ve got those kids forever,” Knight says of parenting. “As a coach, you’re trying to develop things that maybe others haven’t given the kid. So now you’ve got a kid 18 years old that you’re trying to change.” Watching his own son play high school basketball was hardly easy, and Brown even recalls an incident that found Knight charging out of the stands and demanding to be admitted into the locker room to challenge the coach. “He won’t stand for anybody to criticize his coaching, but it’s okay for him to go after a high school coach, “ Brown says. “On one level it’s childish, on the other it’s totally hypocritical.”

Knight feels that watching his son and coaching him are 
two entirely different undertakings. “When you watch your own kid play, you always want the best for him; you want him to do well, you want him not to make mistakes, make good plays, be a contributing player,” Knight says. “I don’t care if it’s in a Christmas pageant, reciting a poem, or in the school play.” Patrick himself was quoted in Joan Mellen’s book, Bob Knight: His Own Man, as saying, “When we go out to eat, he’s my dad, but when I’m out on the floor, which is 90 percent of the time we’re together, he’s a coach.”

Even though the separation is apparently easy for both father and son to identify, onlookers have their doubts. Newell, who feels certain Knight will redshirt Patrick this year, says many of Knight’s confidants, himself included, tried to dissuade him from recruiting his son. “History shows that it’s difficult for any lad to play for his father,” Newell says, explaining that it puts the player in a difficult position with his teammates. “In the locker room, for example, players like to grouse: Coach doesn’t understand me, or he won’t do this or that. If the coach has his son in there, it takes away some of the privacy. It puts the lad in a difficult spot off-court.” Newell maintains that University of Southern California coach Bob Boyd feels he did a disservice to his son in a like situation, but thinks “Bobby does things his own way, and he feels this is best for Patrick, for himself and for his team.”

This new, mellow Bob Knight that many of his friends identify might well be able to tolerate any pressures that coaching his son might present. Even Brown allows that he’s seen Knight act charming, although he hastens to replace the adjective with “civil.” He, along with the rest of the sports world, applauds Knight’s selection of students, his high academic standards, and his graduation rate. Addressing the first topic, Brown adds, “A lot of them would come to Indiana if Godzilla were coaching, because they’ve grown up in the state.”

High standards are a way of life, and Knight himself is not too proud to hold himself up as an attractive role model. “If kids went about doing things the way I do, with the same approach to ethics that I have, they’d turn out pretty good,” he says. Fischer, in fact, concludes that if you lie to him you’re “dead in the water.” And a national sportswriter who prefers to remain unnamed claims that anybody who cheats, lies, or steals “better enter the witness protection program … fast.”

While neither his standards nor his coaching strategies have taken on a more relaxed air, a few basic attitudes have. Take women, a subject he spoke freely about less than 10 years ago, vowing that they waste his time talking about inconsequential things and should stay home where they belong. Today, he fields the subject with more tolerance. Although Knight claims that, “If I had kids today, I’d want their mother home with them,” he acknowledges that a style of living often dictates otherwise, and many parents simply can’t afford that option. Aside from that, however, Knight still maintains that moms at work mean trouble at home. “Not to be able to get by, I understand,” he says of mothers who work. “But that still doesn’t lessen the problem it creates latchkey kids, kids cooking on their own, kids eating at McDonald’s all the time.” Does such a lifestyle make for independent youngsters? “Naw,” he says, “it makes them followers.”

Knight’s attitudes from women to war are widely known, thanks at least in part to the rash of books written about him and his program in the last few years. John Feinstein’s A Season on the Brink, a description of the 1985-’86 season rife with four-letter words, led the fray, followed by Bob Hammel’s Beyond the Brink with Indiana, Joan Mellen’s Bob Knight: His Own Man, and Steve Alford’s Playing for Knight just last year. These volumes sit on bookstore shelves like so many Bart Simpson T-shirts in a novelty store. Knight himself, who still spares Feinstein a civil word when commenting on that best-seller, concedes that maybe too much has been written for all of them to be well-received. “How ’bout instant replay, and instant replay two, and right on down the line?” he says. “You just don’t write two or three books about the same subject.”

Although he doesn’t name favorites, his opinion about the first remains clear: He was violated. While Feinstein has held that a book without profanity would simply not be a book about Bob Knight, the coach himself never read the book and feels “used.” To his understanding, the ground rules were simple: (1) Don’t use the word “fuck,’ and (2) write about the team, not about the coach. Both rules, in his opinion, were broken, and after “reading six pages and finding ‘fuck’ 17 times,” he turned over the reading task to his good friend, Bloomington Herald-Times sports editor Bob Hammel, to find out “what I should look out for.”

Fischer, who doesn’t argue that the word in question figures prominently in Knight’s vocabulary, sizes up the matter simply. “If you look in the mirror and see four pimples, do you try to cover them up?” Fischer asks. “Yeah, I might use the word ‘fuck’ all the time, but do I want everybody in the world to know that?”

Mellen’s book, replete with personal anecdotes gathered as she accompanied Knight to practices and on the lecture circuit and interviewed him repeatedly, offers a more reverent look at the man. Although the publisher won’t reveal the number sold, the book doubtless wasn’t as well-received as its more hard-edged predecessor. The author, who pens such descriptions of Knight as “a happy man whose days are full” and corrects such tales as the stuffing of the Louisiana State fan in a trash can by explaining the fan was merely shoved, causing the can to fall around him, was allowed to write the book for one simple reason: Knight liked her scathing review of Feinstein’s book. “She didn’t know me from a jar of Vicks,” says Knight, who admits he proofread the book prior to publication “for all the basketball stuff.”

Knight, who claims he neither liked nor disliked Mellen’s book, but found it accurate, says he not only didn’t read Feinstein’s book, he also didn’t read a later book written by former player Steve Alford, a tome full of locker room tales and personal remembrances. “I coached Alford for four years—what do I need to read his book for?” asks Knight, who still maintains he likes Alford and credits him for his contribution to IU basketball. What bothers him most is the title. “It seems to me that it should have been ‘The Steve Alford Story,’ not the Bob Knight book,” Knight says. “My name shouldn’t have been used in bigger type by maybe four times than his to sell the book. “

In the past, Knight has promised to write an autobiography with Hammel’s help but shrugs that “we’ve just never gotten around to it.” The plan, however, hasn’t been forgotten. “I’ll write it someday,” he says, “when I’m done. Why write it ’til I’m done? Then you haven’t covered everything.”

Knight is understandably cautious when selecting potential authors or even reporters who request full-scale interviews; they are generally Knight veterans or are recommended by someone he trusts. According to Knight, however, just such an experience, a TV interview by Connie Chung for a segment on stress, went sour. “It was one of the great horrors of all time,” Knight says of the interview, made famous by its inclusion of his quote about officiating: “If it gets so bad, you’ve still got to coach. And if it’s that bad, when rape’s inevitable, you’ve got to relax and enjoy it.” That comment, he says, was followed with, “and I’m certainly not talking about the physical act of rape,” after which Knight asked the producer not to use the quote because somebody might misunderstand. Women’s groups and outraged viewers and readers did, causing Knight to offer explanations like, “All you’ve got to do is look up the definition of rape : pillage, rape of the woods, the cities, anything.”

In retrospect, Knight’s at the very least sorry he cooperated, although he did so because he gave his word. If he had lost interest, however, he no doubt would have called it off. He’s still interested in coaching, although he admits he sometimes loses interest in games if his team’s playing poorly. While some say he might have made a good lawyer, for example, he maintains that nothing else would have brought about the same enjoyment, opportunities or interest as coaching. “I have to be interested in what I’m doing,” he says. “Like golf. Golf is interesting to me. It’s interesting to see what I can do and how I can play. Fishing is interesting because it’s the challenge of accomplishing something. Reading is interesting. Ask me about a place or a foreign country, and maybe I’ve either been there or read about it.” What’s not interesting, he says, are parties, or worse yet, the prospect of going on a cruise. “That would be of no interest to me whatsoever,” he says.

Knight’s celebrity status has brought him both power and limitations. “No man should be bigger than the university,” says Collins, explaining that Knight’s high grade standards put him on a level above many coaches, but adding that the current IU president has less patience with Knight than the former. “He’s viewed in the state now where he’s practically a legend, a great figure just standing off from everybody else.” If Knight sees himself that way, he certainly won’t admit it. “I don’t really get caught up to any great extent with who I’m supposed to be or who anybody else is supposed to be,” he says. “That’ s never been any big deal to me. I’ve done things with people that everybody in the world knows and things with people that nobody knows, and in most cases it’s been the latter. It’s just people that are friends of mine, good people.”

Knight speaks fondly of his deceased father, and admits that while the man never would have told anybody that his son had coached three teams to national championships, he would have been proud “if we’d gone fishing and caught some fish.” Knight feels he’s like his father, and curiously enough, likens the modest Damon Bailey to him. “None of that stuff awes him,” Knight explains. “He just goes on. “

While many onlookers maintain that the coach, famous for his search for perfection, won’t give up until he achieves the perfect game, Knight views such analysis as hogwash. “Did anybody ever find the Holy Grail or the Golden Fleece?” he asks. “The lookers have different ideas about what the hell they’re lookin’ for. To play the perfect basketball game is not the ultimate objective of mine. I still enjoy the idea of coaching and the challenges of preparation, participation, and competition.”

If not the perfect game, what will eventually send Knight into a different arena, be it broadcasting, another school, or retirement? Knight himself, who at one time seemed close to packing for New Mexico, doubts that any other school could tempt him. “There are probably only about a half-dozen places in the first place that I would even think about going,” he says, “and I’ve probably had a chance to go to most of them. And I’m still here.”

A close friend was once quoted as speculating that Knight could walk away from the game suddenly—the end could come at any time. “When it happens,” Knight says, “that’s the way it will be.” And when that time comes, Knight doesn’t foresee a broadcasting job or anything else. Just fishing, maybe, and plenty of golf. “What else do I need to do?” he asks. “People say, ‘You’ll go crazy when you’re not coaching,’ but that’s bullshit. I’ll enjoy myself just as much. At that moment when I say I’m not going to coach anymore, it won’t bother me in the slightest. And I don’t have to become the general manager of whatever, and I don’t have to become a broadcaster. I don’t have to do anything.”

Old age. An awesome prospect for some, a casual eventuality for others. Knight maintains, “Why worry about it? Why not simply take care and go?” He certainly doesn’t welcome the prospect of being incapacitated. although if that were the case. he guesses, others would have to deal with it. No. a rocking chair probably wouldn’t do either, although in his words, “How the hell do we know? “ “I hope that as long as I live, I’ll be able to do things,” he says, “that I’ll be able to play golf, fish and read. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done.”

So while others plan celebrity roasts, tell famous Bob Knight stories and compile books, Knight’s trying his darnedest to pass the whole thing off. If 50th birthday gifts become a reality, Collins probably has the best idea: a 7-foot center who can run the 100-yard dash in 8 seconds … and is deaf.

Many happy returns.

 

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