Despite all his success, Coach Bob Knight is probably just as well known for many of the controversial incidents he was involved in during his coaching career. Everybody remembers the time he threw a chair all the way across the court in Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. There were many others, as well. He attacked officials, ridiculed sports writers, threatened a Latin American policeman, made insensitive comments and cut Charles Barkley from the Olympic basketball team. Despite all that, there is another side to Coach Knight that everyone may not have been exposed to. I am here to balance the scales a little bit.
Somewhere around 1990 or so, I attended a one-man basketball clinic at Vanderbilt University. Coach Bob Knight was the one-man clinic. After the clinic, I asked Coach Knight to sign a ball for my 2-year-old son Zack. He gladly obliged and wrote “Best Wishes Zack from Coach Bob Knight.” Coach Knight then asked where I was from. When I told him Cadiz, he lit into how much he either knew or had heard of the great fishing and hunting in our area. I found Coach Knight to be very friendly and engaging during our first meeting.
Fast-forward a decade later to somewhere around the turn of the century. It is a year or two into the two thousands and I am in Lubbock, Texas. My oldest son Zack is playing on an AAU basketball team out of Madisonville. His team won a major tournament in Louisville and qualified for the National BCI finals in Lubbock. The coach of the team, Gary Russell, flew the team out to Texas.
The team, which featured 6-foot-10 Albert Jackson who later attended the University of Georgia, ended up finishing around fifth in the nation. The tournament was held at Lubbock Christian College. While in Lubbock, I tried to make sure the players saw whatever Lubbock was famous for, such as Cagles Steakhouse. Of course, the most famous item in Lubbock circa 2002 was none other than Coach Bob Knight. Therefore, I set out on a quest to find Coach Knight and have him talk to our Madisonville Magic AAU team from far away in western Kentucky.
The first step in attempting to find Coach Knight was to travel to Texas Tech’s campus right in the heart of Lubbock. When we arrived at United Spirit Basketball Arena, I noticed they were giving the place somewhat of a facelift. I found an open door and led the team in. I noticed they were also refinishing the gym floor. There were several men working on it. Other than the workers, the gym was empty. No Coach Knight in sight. I finally found a custodian and asked where the basketball offices were. The custodian replied, “They are almost impossible to find. It is almost like they are between floors. You need to take an elevator to get there. Let me take you.” The kind custodian led me to the offices and wished me luck with my attempt to find Coach Knight.
I found the basketball office and saw a coach sitting at the desk. I went in and told him I was looking for Coach Knight. The assistant coach gave me the ultimate runaround and said, “He is in and out so much I doubt you can find him. The odds are against it. He is very busy recruiting right now.” As he was spewing his baloney, I looked over my shoulder at the office across the hall and there he sat, bigger than life, Coach Bob Knight. I told the assistant, “Excuse me, coach but I think I can find him since he is sitting at his desk right across the hall.” The assistant sort of smirked and said, “Go ahead and try your luck then.” He said it as if Coach Knight didn’t normally welcome unscheduled intrusions into his day. I said, “Thank you, I will.”
I crossed the hall, stepped inside the open door and cautiously said, “Coach Knight could I speak to you a minute?” (All the while aware that he had allegedly chewed up and spat out legions of people over the years in circumstances like this.)
Coach Knight looked up at me and said something to the effect, “Go ahead.” It was at this moment that I played my trump card. I said, “Coach do you know a couple of fellows by the names of Harold Knight and David Hale?” Now I had him. He got up, came over and shook my hand and said, “Do you know those two guys? I owe them some T-shirts and stuff.” He just kept going: “You tell them I said hello. As a matter of fact, I need to call them.” I knew that Harold and David had taken Coach Knight hunting. I didn’t realize how much he thought of them. Coach Knight proceeded to take pictures with our AAU team and talk to them about the importance of school and getting a good education. He was an absolute gentleman. That makes twice I have had good luck with the legendary Coach Bob Knight.
I guess the moral of this story is, don’t believe everything you hear about someone. Get to know them yourself. Oh yeah, there is a second moral as well. It helps to know Harold Knight and David Hale.
OT: Coach Knight’s teams consistently led the nation in graduation rates.
Double OT: Coach Knight donated considerable amounts of money to his university’s libraries and other academic causes.
Triple OT: But there was that time that he cuffed Joe B. Hall on the back of the head with a program during a 1970s game.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.