Bob Knight, Indiana need to move on and bury the hatchet
Bob Knight and Indiana are fighting again, this time over $75,000
It's obvious all Knight wants is for Indiana to apologize, not pay him
It's time for the two to reconcile and Knight to return as a celebrated figure
Bob Knight and Indiana are fighting again. Well, maybe that's not the right way to phrase it. It's the same fight, the one that should have ended years ago.
The latest dispute is technically about $75,000 that Knight says Indiana owes him. But it's about more than that. It's about bitterness and about letting go. Indiana donors offered to pay Knight the $75,000, but he wouldn't take it. He said he never took money from boosters and he wouldn't start now.
So Knight will skip his own induction into Indiana's Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend. He says he doesn't want to be a distraction.
People either hate Knight or love him, but at this point I think we can all agree: Who cares?
Who cares if you thought Indiana should have stood up to him in the 1970s, when his temper first surfaced? Who cares if Indiana should have given him a fairer shake when it finally did fire him nine years ago?
Knight should be the grand old man of Indiana basketball. He should be the icon who comes back to talk to the team once in a while and hears the roar of the Assembly Hall crowd when he walks to his seat in the stands for the Purdue game.
Whatever you thought of Knight in his championship-winning, chair-throwing glory, the fact is that we have forgiven people for far worse.
The man is retired. He was the best basketball coach in Big Ten history, one of the top five ever in all of college basketball.
Right now is when Indiana should embrace him, and he should hug back. But Knight doesn't work like that. Knight is one of the most divisive American sports figures of the last century. More to the point, as even his admirers recognize, he is an absolutist.
Bob Knight does not do compromise. This is one reason he won some of his Big Ten titles with teams that did not overwhelm anybody athletically. Every pass had to be crisp. Every box-out, every defensive assignment, every screen in his motion offense had to be executed precisely.
At Knight's peak, Hoosier basketball was performance art. No coach in history could mold a team better than Knight.
That absolutism is surely what's keeping him from taking that $75,000 check. Very few people would have noticed it came from donors, and even fewer would have cared. But Knight cares. For him, it's about far more than the money.
I was in Indianapolis on that day in September 2000 when school president Myles Brand announced that Indiana was filing for divorce from its longtime coach. It felt like a lot of divorce filings. Brand was outraged, absolutely convinced he was right -- and in denial about what actually had happened.
Indiana University v. Robert Montgomery Knight was a typical divorce. The husband (in this case, we'll make Knight the husband, because he would hate being the wife) always had a nasty temper in private, and sometimes flashed it in public, embarrassing the wife (in this case, the university). But in the early years, she was smitten anyway. He was obviously brilliant, and his good qualities (winning, graduating players) mattered more than anything.
Meanwhile, he thought they were a perfect fit. She overlooked his faults (which he never thought were all that large anyway), supported him when he got in trouble, let him live where he belonged, and appreciated the genius that was his life's work.
People said no other woman could put up with him. They also said no other man could ever make her fall so hard. I don't know how they do it, but it seems to work for them.
But ... time passed. Her patience got shorter. Every one of his outbursts grated on her. And especially in later years, you could spend an entire winter around him without seeing enough of the quality that drew her to him in the first place (winning). She threatened to kick him out, but he consented to a "zero-tolerance policy" about his temper. This was never going to solve their issues. Everybody saw the writing on the wall except them.
The last straw was so utterly laughable -- Knight's grabbing a student's arm to teach him proper respect. For years, she had defended him for far worse transgressions. It had nothing to do with that student's arm and everything to do with her being tired of him.
Knight was bitter. Indiana just wanted to move on. OK, fine.
But that was nine years ago. Today, it's still about winning the fight.
For years, Knight gave his sneaker-contract money back to the school. Why does he need to scratch for every penny now?
Because he is still waiting to hear Indiana say "I'm sorry." If it was about the money, Knight would have taken Indiana's offer of $75,000 from alumni. He wants it from the school. And if Indiana gave in and sent him a check, it would not be surprising if Knight turned around and donated it to charity.
One of Knight's heroes -- and the man whose career most closely resembles his -- was Woody Hayes. Hayes was the football coach at Ohio State when Knight was a student there.
Like Knight, Hayes was far more nuanced than his critics made him out to be. Like Knight, Hayes lost his job after a confrontation with a student (in Woody's case, an opposing player). And like Knight, Hayes was fired by a school that was simply tired of him -- partly because he wasn't winning as much.
But Hayes had a happier retirement than people realize. He let go of some old grudges and finally made peace with his school. When Ohio State gave him an honorary degree, he said it was the greatest day of his life. Hayes knew, finally and definitively, that Ohio State had accepted him as one of its own.
Bob Knight won 902 times in his coaching career. I don't want to spend the next 10 years watching him go for No. 903.
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