Bobby Knight suddenly retired last night, walking away from Texas Tech with 10 games left in the season. A brilliant coach, Knight should be spoken of in the same sentence as Wooden, Smith and Krzyzewski. But most will remember Knight for his abrasive personality.
As a college basketball writer, I encountered Knight several times. The first time, in 1995, was the one I will never forget.
The team I covered, UConn, was playing in the Great Alaska Shootout. Indiana was in the field and I was asked to provide coverage of the Hoosiers by the Louisville Courier Journal, a paper in our chain.
It was a good assignment. Indiana had a ranked team and I’d get to write a few stories for a larger paper. Indiana was playing the host team, Div. II Alaska Anchorage, in the first round.
The Seawolves played the Hoosiers tough, losing 84-79. Indiana played poorly but won because they had greater talent. The postgame press conference was around midnight local time and Knight was predictably furious.
He glared out at the reporters then spat, “If one of you (expletives) doesn’t ask a question, I’m getting the (expletive) out of here.”
I didn’t want to call back to Kentucky without a story, so I raised my hand. “Coach,” I said. “Was this game tougher than you expected?”
Not a great question. But it could have been worse.
“You (expletive), what kind of (expletive) question is that?” Knight said. He then went on for several minutes extolling the virtues of the losing team and questioning my right to walk the earth.
“Any other questions?” he said.
The room was silent. I still didn’t have enough. “Coach,” I said. “You’re playing Duke tomorrow night …”
I never finished. Knight cut me off. “I know we’re playing Duke. What kind of (expletive) do you take me for? If there are no other (expletive) questions other than from this (expletive) then I’m getting out of here.”
With that he stormed out, but not before stopping in front of me and swearing at me again. Press conference over. I wrote my story, such as it was, and escaped into the cold Alaska night. I was never so relieved to be freezing cold.
Indiana lost to Duke the next night. I didn’t ask another question, letting somebody else take the bullet. The Hoosiers then got smoked by UConn in their third game, 86-52. Knight walked to the podium and nobody wanted to ask a question. But I had to try again.
“Coach, what was the problem with your offense tonight?” I asked.
“What kind of question is that?” he said.
“Well, you scored 52 points,” I replied.
Knight called me every name in the book, some twice. But he actually broke down his team pretty well in the process and I had my story.
To this day, whenever some player or manager gives me a hard time, I remember back to that trip to Alaska and Bobby Knight. Anything that happens in baseball is a picnic by comparison. I’m sort of glad it happened, actually. Makes you appreciate the good guys more.
Hope you enjoyed that (expletive) story you (expletives).