It would also seem that Bobby is equally protective of Nancy. His seemingly exaggerated responses in two major controversies may be traced in part to the fact that Nancy was involved peripherally in each. His protracted altercation with this magazine centers on disputes he has had with Senior Writer Curry Kirkpatrick, who did a piece on the Hoosiers in 1975. But Nancy was also personally wounded by a throwaway line of Kirkpatrick's, just as she had been by a passing reference another SI writer, Barry McDermott, made in an earlier article. In trying to humorously mock Knight's martinetism, McDermott suggested that the Hoosier players had gone over to the coach's house for a holiday meal of bread and water. Nancy, who prides herself on being a gracious hostess and accomplished cook, took the crack literally. "I cried and cried," she says.
Then there were the 1979 Pan Am Games. Puerto Rico was, in many respects, an accident waiting to happen. Those who know Knight best say the episode traumatized him, and while he's a chatterbox, he talks compulsively on this subject. And he still won't give an inch. "There is no way I was going down there and turn the other cheek," he says. "If there was trouble, I was ready to give it right back to them. The first day we were down there, they burned some American flags. There was tremendous resentment toward the United States, tremendous hostility. Listen, America means a lot to me. If the guy..."
"The Guy. If The Guy says tomorrow, hey, this country is in trouble and it needs you in this position or that one, then I give up coaching tomorrow and go."
So, even before the officious San Juan policeman threatened him—cursing him, poking at him—Knight was simmering. Then he became concerned for the safety of Nancy and his two sons. "It was terrifying," she says. "We had to change apartments. I couldn't sit in my seat at the games. I had to stay at the press table. I feared for my life and my children's."
However Knight behaved in Puerto Rico—"You have no respect for anybody. You treat us like dirt. You are an embarrassment to America, our country. You are an Ugly American," a Puerto Rican sports official snapped at him after the Pan Am basketball final—it must be understood that Knight perceived, correctly or not, that the three things he values most in his life were being menaced—his family, his country and his team.
Late in his senior year at Ohio State, Knight considered a job at a high school in Celina, Ohio as the coach of basketball and an assistant in football. He liked the place, but walking back across the school's gridiron, he kicked at the turf and shook his head. "I thought, if I'm going to be a basketball coach, I can't be diverted," he says. "I wanted vertical concentration. That's still the essence of my coaching." So he took a lesser job as a basketball assistant, without any football responsibility, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. In his first game as head coach of the 10th-graders, he broke a clipboard.
A year later, with Taylor's help, the Brat from Orrville got the assistant's post at West Point under Tates Locke, enlisting in the Army to qualify for the job. When Locke left in 1965, the brass stunned everybody by giving Pfc. Knight the job. "I've never had any apologies for being a head coach at 24," he says. "I was making $99 a month then. I have no sympathy for people who don't make progress because they won't accept the pay somewhere."