Knight Made Great Impact During Lifetime
Last week, legendary basketball coach Bob Knight died. Any long-time basketball fan surely knows the great impacts that Knight made to the game. When he retired from coaching, he had the record for most victories. His accomplishments included three NCAA championships including the last perfect record in men’s basketball. Knight was also the last coach to lead U.S. amateur basketball players to a gold medal in the Olympics.
I was fortunate enough to meet the coach twice when he traveled to eastern Montana for hunting trips. He usually made connections with local high school coaches so he could try his luck in the area.
My first meeting came in the 1980s when Knight talked to an assembly of students at Sidney High School. I remember him having a student change seats because “friends” around the student were being a distraction. “Some day, you will thank me,” Knight said to the student.
When I quickly interviewed Knight after the assembly, he was more than friendly to a young reporter. He even asked if there was anything else that I needed from him.
My second encounter came at a house of a coaching friend. I had the opportunity to visit with him for a longer period of time that night. I’m a native of Wisconsin, so we discussed Al McGuire and other Wisconsin coaches.
This occurred the year that he was between positions at Indiana University and Texas Tech. I enjoy the story that Knight and two local high school coaches went to a rural farmer’s house to ask hunting permission. The farmer had sons who played high school basketball, but he wasn’t one who watched games on TV. When the high school coaches introduced Knight to the eastern Montana resident, the farmer asked if Knight coaches too. Knight replied, “Not right now” to the laughs of the other coaches.
The coaching style of Knight probably can’t be totally duplicated in this current day. He was demanding, but he and most of his players shared love for each other. Knight would say this isn’t a democracy, we play basketball my way. There wasn’t any doubt that he was in total control as he taught motion offense and man-to-man defense to great success. He also taught his players to be great citizens. He would say he wanted his players to learn more on the basketball court than in any class. He would complain when ESPN demanded that Big Ten teams play late games during the week, because Knight said the traveling teams would miss classes the next day. The treatment of student athletes should be more importance than universities making extra dollars. I don’t see that commitment from too many current collegiate coaches.
He was far from a perfect man, but many of his traits should be admired. His teams were never accused of cheating or breaking NCAA rules. His teams dominated by doing things the right way, the way that he demanded.
I miss watching basketball coaches like Bob Knight and others of that period such as Dean Smith, Gene Keady and Jud Heathcote. It seemed like better times and that basketball was simply more interesting to observe. Today’s game might be more athletic, but I miss the chess matches between the giants on the benches.