Judge Jane Spencer Craney has ruled in favor of Indiana University in its desire to keep the records of the events that led to the firing of former basketball Coach Bob Knight sealed. This story hit the wires on 29 August 2006, roughly six years after Knight was fired for violating a zero-tolerance policy put into effect after he was captured on video grabbing IU player Neil Reid by the throat.
The decision itself seems to be semantic (I think…I’m not that good at lawyerin’) deciding whether or not the records in question were legal “work product,” to quote the article quoting the ruling. What really sticks out though is the fact that Bob Knight still has a strangle hold on the state of Indiana, its ethos, and its oldest love, basketball. The headline broke into the website for the Indianapolis Star along with a local police chief resigning and news about the Taylor University student who was misidentified as her friend after a van accident only to show up “alive” after the mix-up came to light. This story will no doubt make every local newscast at 10:00, 11:00, the 24 local news channel, and round out with a comprehensive tour of the morning shows with all the goofy weathermen.
For twenty-eight seasons Bob Knight led the Hurryin’ Hoosiers, gathering three national championships along the way including the undefeated 1976 team. Knight was praised for signing Indiana players (a fact that some erroneously read as “white” players), speaking his mind, and having unflinching expectations for his team. Honestly, Knight was praised for being a winner first and foremost, and if Stalin could get you twenty victories a year and a Final Four here and there he would have been beloved in the Crossroads of America.
You see, Indiana loves basketball with unmatched fervor. Some will say that North Carolina is the cradle of roundball, but Sean May and Josh McRoberts had to come from somewhere. Kentucky may try to claim to be the Eden of hardwood, but they’ve got other image issues to shake before they can make such assertions. John Wooden is 95 years old yet still makes the trek to Indianapolis for the annual showcase that bears his name, and he’ll be the first to remind you that “In 49 states it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana.”
It’s this insatiable love – a love that festers and churns with each passing year of high school multi-class basketball, Kelvin Sampson sanction, rebroadcast of Hoosiers, and longing for the rebirth of those beloved Boilermakers – that allows Bob Knight to creep onto the front page a few times a year. We just can’t shake this guy. Don’t believe me? Look in my brother-in-law’s garage where a BOB KNIGHT BLVD sign still hangs. Still not convinced? Tell that to the guy in the Texas Tech t-shirt I saw at Target this weekend...in Indianapolis. Before 2000, most locals couldn’t have told you where Texas Tech’s campus was located. Ask those same apologists now and the answer’s a bit easier, “We've got a timeshare in Lubbock.”
I once discovered the magnetism of Bob Knight locked in an unexpected story. My uncle, ever the music devourer and never a sports fan, was once telling me about the fallout of John Lennon’s assertion that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” He knew it was absolutely true, noting that had you asked the average American teen in the mid-sixties if they’d rather go to church or watch the Fab Four, most would have wanted to hold your hand. He then noted that it was just like that with Bob Knight, saying that if my grandfather, my uncle’s father, were to be on his couch holding a conversation with Jesus Christ and Bob Knight walked into the room that my grandfather might have said something like, “I see, love thy…oh, just a sec, Lord. I’ll be right back.”
Knight’s future retirement will no doubt bring a bevy of “what-if” history articles and whet the whistle of so many parched Hoosier fans. My only dream is that somewhere out there, maybe in Tippecanoe County, there’s a six-year-old cager perfecting his post free throw gooseneck who will one day grow up to utter, “Who the hell is Bob Knight?”