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Back where it started (cont.)

Posted: Monday January 1, 2007 2:06PM; Updated: Monday January 1, 2007 7:38PM
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Knight time in N.Y.

At halftime of the greatest game the Black Knights played that season, Knight vomited.

Army came into the NIT semifinals as a heavy underdog against San Francisco, which had two future NBA second-round draft picks, Joe Ellis and Edwin Mueller. Helkie came out gunning in Madison Square Garden, scoring 25 in the first half to put Army up 39-24. Knight said in his autobiography that Army's athletic director, Colonel Raymond Murphy, came into the locker room and yelled, "I've never seen basketball played this well!" Knight said he got so nervous that he went into the shower room and threw up.

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The queasy coach and his Black Knights hung on to win 80-63, setting up a date in the semifinals against 19th-ranked BYU. Knight saved the season's biggest explosion for the biggest stage. Army was up 58-56 with just over two minutes left, when Helkie stepped in front of the Cougars' All-America guard, Dick Nemelka, to attempt to take a charge. And even to this day, Helkie says, "It's one of those things that you don't like to think about. I was the guy who got the bad call. The ref who was right behind me [Lou Eisenstein] started to call charge ... and then the ref who was blocked off from the play by about 4-6 players [Bud Fidgeon], ran up and overruled him. It was clear to me that it was a bad call."

As Isenhour recounts in his book, the game may have hung on this play. Helkie and Nemelka each had four fouls, and Helkie would have shot a 1-and-1 on a charge call to put Army up four, after which -- due to the fact there was no shot clock -- they could have hit more free throws and iced the game. But Eisenstein let Fidgeon's blocking call stand, and BYU rallied to win 66-60. Knight, Isenhour said, "went ballistic."

Knight admits to smashing a water cooler, and Isenhour says there are accounts of him also punching a locker, kicking a door, slapping a wall and cursing out Eisenstein. Same Knight, Different Channel reprints a Knight quote in the New York Times which read, "Never have I ever said anything about officiating. But that was a gutless call tonight. Gutless."

Locke, who was in attendance, told Isenhour that Knight bolted into the officials' locker room to go after Eisenstein, who was the only ref to ever work the NBA, NCAA and NIT finals in the same year. In the book, Locke says, "Eisenstein looked like a deer in the headlights. ... [Knight] grabbed him. He was tryin' to grab him, but Eisenstein was so fat he couldn't lift him off the floor." Eisenstein , though, discounted that story in the New York Post, saying that Knight merely stopped by "to tell us he was sorry that he had popped off."

Knight dedicated a few lines to the incident in My Story, saying, "I thought that call cost us the game and said so very emphatically in the press conference after the game. That was my first major encounter with the press; I just got blistered in the newspapers."

It would go down as the first on-the-record instance of Knight publicly criticizing officials -- a fitting coda for his first season as head coach. Over the 40 seasons and 862 wins that followed, he would experience greater successes, play on bigger stages, and find himself at the center of much more heated controversies, and yet coach's defining characteristics were all there in 1965-66. Army was only the beginning of the run at 880, but the players at West Point experienced Bob Knight in full.

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