KNIGHT: My Story, by Bob Knight with Bob Hammel Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin's Press, 375 pages, $25.95
The Yiddish word chutzpah is often defined by an old joke: A guy murders his mother and father and is brought before a horrified judge, who demands to know what he has to say for himself. "Your Honor," answers the man, "have pity on me, a poor orphan!" Now imagine that after this man served a jail term he wrote a book attacking that judge for punishing a poor orphan. That's the kind of chutzpah Bob Knight has, and this is that sort of book.
Knight, of course, was canned as basketball coach at Indiana in 2000, after 618 wins and 10 times as many pyrotechnic temper tantrums. The book is his opportunity to spit bile, as only he can, on those he considers responsible for his firing. Which would make an amusing read if one didn't have to wade through heaps of dross to get to it. Much of the book is so thick with long-winded expressions of gratitude, it's like reading a hundred Oscar night speeches. ("I had just two secretaries in my 29 years [at Indiana]," Knight writes, "and both were great.") These thank-yous are mixed with sleep-inducing reminiscences of past seasons, which in turn are punctuated by the obligatory motivational quotes from Vince Lombardi and George Patton.
But when Knight finally gets down to the business at hand—shedding his enemies' blood—he's thoroughly entertaining. His descriptions of Indiana's dithering, self-serving academic administrators ("deceitful and duplicitous," he calls them) will be familiar to anyone who has had to deal with university bureaucrats. His assaults on sportswriters are similarly delicious. "They're an amazing group," he writes. "You should see some of the guys who call me fat."
Ultimately what makes Knight's worldview so interesting is his almost total lack of self-awareness. There's enough denial in that busy noggin of his to occupy a psychoanalytic conference. Though he grudgingly admits (this is progress) that he has "a temper problem that I have to work harder to corral," he hasn't begun to admit the depth of his anger-management issues. Knight mentions just one time when he approached the precipice of introspection, before quickly drawing back. Shortly after the publication of A Season on the Brink, John Feinstein's best-seller on Indiana's 1985-86 season, Knight condescended to read six pages and then "put it down, sick, and never read another word." Why? Because, he claims, Feinstein promised not to use the f word but broke that promise.
Now here's a pickle. Why does it sicken Knight to read a word he so loves to use? ("I had to sit around for a f—— year with an 8-10 record in this f—— league!" he once roared at his team. "And I mean, you will not put me in that f—— position again or you will goddam pay for it like you can't f—— believe!") Probably because there are aspects of himself that he can't bear to think about. If that's true, he might want to add another motivational slogan to his bulletin board, this one from Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.