Commentary: Hoosiers re-uKnighted

In the movie “What About Bob?” the titular character is a patient who unrelentingly tracks down his psychiatrist.

Everywhere the doctor turns, every door he opens, there is Bob.

In a literal sense, Bob Knight has been the polar opposite when it comes to Indiana University. But in a metaphorical sense, Knight has loomed around every corner, behind every door, through every window.

Every time the Hoosiers have dipped their toe in the spotlight, the question is asked — what about Bob?

After 20 years, the question need not be asked anymore.

It was finally put to bed the moment 79-year-old Bob Knight slowly sauntered to center court during halftime of Saturday’s game against Purdue at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

And it couldn’t come a moment too soon, because so long as Knight and IU remained estranged, there was a hole in history.

Players and teams were celebrated, but the coach remained taboo.

What is UCLA without John Wooden, North Carolina without Dean Smith, Louisville without Denny Crum, Tennessee without Pat Summit?

The school and the coach in such situations are inextricably linked, yet Indiana had this awkward silence when such subjects came up.

It was no easier for Knight, who tried to broadcast games and do interviews without mentioning the school with which he was associated for 29 years, sometimes for better or sometimes for worse.

The worse is something easily glossed over on an occasion such as Saturday’s, especially by TV personalities, who are quick to make light of ill-tempered moments and abuses of power. Yet those things linger as they always have and always will, especially given Knight’s refusal to forgive or ask forgiveness from those caught up in the slow cavalcade of events that culminated in his departure.

The complicated nature of Knight’s legacy is in no way simplified by this one day, however, it did take a backseat.

The one thing worse than any polarizing aspect of Knight was the unrelenting grudge he held, one that had long ago ceased to serve any purpose other than further alienating him from the people who could provide him the most joy and appreciation in the twilight of life. Knight’s move back to Bloomington last year showed that in some way, he understood this, even if not in so many words.

“When he moved back here, I knew he was in a good place,” said Randy Wittman, a member of the 1980 Big Ten championship team that was honored. “He was very happy being back here in Bloomington, living. And I just told him there’s a reason why you’re happy, because this is where you belong. It’s where you belong.”

On Saturday, Knight and his memories belonged to two groups of people.

One, Hoosier fans. These are the people who day in and day out, year in and year out, make Indiana basketball special. As Knight said in the tribute video preceding his appearance, “Nowhere was basketball more appreciated than in the state of Indiana.”

Knight’s departure and subsequent holdout has often left those fans at odds, perhaps only agreeing that IU’s not what it once was, something yet again clearly illustrated by the Hoosiers’ 74-62 loss to the Boilermakers. But Saturday represented a mending of the fences for those willing, and it started with The General.

”I think at this point in his life it was time to not only let the fans see him and respond to him but as we saw today, he loves the fans and he responded to them,” Wittman said.

It’s easy to forget that Knight was still half a year shy of his 60th birthday the last time he publicly trod on Branch McCracken Court. Time, as it does to all of us, has taken its toll.

For all the warm, fuzzy feelings of saying hello to an old friend, there was also the nagging thought that this occasion might also be a goodbye. Whichever it was, maybe both, Knight needed the fans on this cold February afternoon and they, in turn, needed him as shouts of “Bobby, Bobby” rang throughout Assembly Hall, even if it was just a hollow exercise in trying to recapture past glories.

Wittman was Exhibit A in the second group, Knight’s former players. Nearly 50 ex-Hoosiers were on hand Saturday to celebrate their old coach. He was greeted with hugs and smiles and tears. There was a joy in their faces and in the face of Knight that is only born of a shared experience, be it success or failure.

”We love coming back and seeing each other at these reunions, this is my second or third one back, but I just told him, ‘It doesn’t mean anything to us anymore if you’re not a part of it,’” Wittman said. “We came here because of him. It wasn’t because of the weather. And as I told Coach, as much as the academics were a big part, it wasn’t because of the academics. We came here to play for Coach.

”This was a great day for me, emotional, one of the best highs I’ve had in a long time.”

It was fitting that Knight was accompanied out of the tunnel not only by his son, Pat, but by the likes of Scott May and Quinn Buckner. These people were the reason why he did what he did and proof that the lessons he taught were not limited to the basketball court, even if his own mistakes were, on occasion, source material.

Knight’s return on Saturday finally freed them from this stigma as children of Indiana University and its basketball program, children whose parents were not on speaking terms.

The family is reunited, eliminating any fear of violating some unwritten oath of loyalty.

It was a release of sorts for all involved, one most evident as Knight displayed some of his trademark vim and vigor, exhorting the crowd, his former players and even the current team in the locker room to “play defense.”

He began pumping his fist and chanting, “Defense, defense.” His players joined in, along with the crowd, everyone on the same page — the same Hoosier page — for the first time in what seems like forever.

No questions asked.

Contact Jeremy Price at 812-331-4342, jprice@heraldt.com or follow @JPPrice on Twitter.

5 comments

  1. One thing is certain: Knight’s players and (at least many) IU fans will always have a higher regard for Knight than do sportswriters.

  2. “Reunited”
    (Single Version)

    [Herb Indiana:]
    I was a fool to ever leave your side
    Me minus you is such a lonely [banner] ride
    The breakup we had has made me lonesome and sad
    I realize I love you ’cause I want you bad, hey, hey

    [Peaches Bobby:]
    I spent the evening with the radio…[just not Dakich radio]
    Regret the moment that I let you go
    Our quarrel was such a way of learnin’ so much
    I know now that I love you ’cause I need your [zero tolerance] touch, hey, hey

    [Both:]
    Reunited and it feels so good
    Reunited ’cause we understood
    There’s one perfect fit
    And, sugar, this one is it
    We both are so excited ’cause we’re reunited, hey, hey

    [Peaches Bobby:]
    I sat here starin’ at the same old [assisted living unit] wall
    Came back to life just when I got your call
    I wished I could climb right through the telephone line
    And give you what you want so you will still be mine, hey, hey

    [Herb Indiana:]
    I can’t go [Kelvin] cheatin’, honey, I can’t play
    I found it very hard to stay away
    As we reminisce on precious moments like this
    I’m glad we’re back together ’cause I missed your [Big Ten and] kiss, hey, hey

    [Both:]
    Reunited and it feels so good
    Reunited ’cause we understood
    There’s one perfect fit
    And, sugar, this one is it
    We both are so excited ’cause we’re reunited, hey, hey

    [Herb Indiana:] Yeah, yeah, yeah
    [Peaches Bobby:] Ba-a-a-by

    [Herb Indiana:] Lover, lover, this is solid [maple hardwood] love
    [Peaches Bobby:] And you’re exactly what I’m dreamin’ of…[when I actually remember what I’m dreamin’ of]
    [Herb Indiana:] All through the day
    [Peaches Bobby:] And all through the night [Knight?]
    [Both:] I’ll give you all the love I have with all my might, hey, hey

    Reunited and it feels so good
    Reunited ’cause we understood
    There’s one perfect fit
    And, sugar, this one is it
    We both are so excited…

    [Peaches Bobby:] My bladder is sort of excited right now. It’s reuniting with the DEFENSE! of my Depends short-shorts. DEFENSE! DEFENSE! Get me back to the tunnel!

  3. A bit off-topic (though still considering IU Basketball and “burying hatchets”)….but I have a question (and a few follow-up questions):

    Why does Don Fischer appear on the Dan Dakich Show?

    I’ve always felt like Don Fischer to be a class act…..so it baffles me why he feeds and validates ‘Dan the Divider.’ Why does he validate a guy who used ESPN to drag his alma mater through the mud? Does Don Fischer need to be any part of commentary or angles perpetuated by Dakich at this point of his career? Is it just the fact that Don is a nice guy?

    Dan played a segment of an interview Jeff Goodman had with Pat Knight….Makes me feel very sad for any son who has lived in the shadows of an icon. I thought it was unnecessary for Dan to re-air Pat Knight’s torment to be accepted.

    One thing is evident…Maybe some had closure Saturday, but many do not…and will not. Until those who do not have closure (including those who have local media positions and use them to undermine), it remains if we’ll ever leave being a soap opera…and get back to basketball. And this is why I just have a hard time understanding why a storied Hoosier broadcaster wants to enter into that fray.

Comments are closed.