BLOOMINGTON --- Something was missing Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
The loyalty was there, but the man tied to it was not.
Former IU head coach Bob Knight's photo was prominently displayed on the video board during the halftime recognition of the 1976 undefeated national champion Indiana basketball team. He didn't make it, but many of his former players did as IU celebrated the 40th anniversary of that team accomplishing what no other has since - going undefeated.
"We were special, but we were special because of one man, Bob Knight," former IU guard Quinn Buckner told the crowd. "He's not here, but that doesn't matter. In spirit, he is here."
Buckner delivered his words during a halftime ceremony in which he and his teammates in attendance were introduced at center court. It was part of an entire evening dedicated to the success of he and his teammates many years ago.
Earlier in the evening, those players and their families spent time reminiscing about the season and Knight. There were plenty of stories, and many of them went back to how much the friendships meant to each of them.
Both stood out to Jim Crews, also a guard on that 1976 team.
"Well one of the things I really appreciated about Coach Knight is, when you can assemble a group a guys - a group of guys you meet the first day of school as a freshman - and now we look at it 40 years later and you're still good friends," Crews said. "So the people he put around you, from coaches to managers and friendships that last 40 years, that's incredibly cool."
The epitome of that support and friendship could be summed up in Crews' recollection of Indiana's reguar-season game against Illinois that year.
With the Hoosiers up 25, Knight subbed in Crews. All-American Scott May was still in the game, and Crews said he made a nice backdoor pass to him to set up a bucket and a foul.
As May celebrated, Crews said, he sprinted to the top of the key and gave Crews a "bear hug."
"So here's a guy that comes off the bench, that's not that good of a player and makes you feel like a million dollars," Crews said. "That's what's really cool about these guys and the teammates you've had for 40 years that Coach Knight put together."
May, who had graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and earned plenty of recognition, also didn't forget his teammates. He was specifically asked about defensive specialist Bobby Wilkerson, who May said would guard anyone from the center to the point guard and would always be there when a teammate got in trouble on the court or needed help.
"I was telling them earlier today that two of my favorite words were 'help' and 'switch'," May said, drawing laughs from his teammates sitting to his left and right. "But to have a player so versatile, long, gifted and athletic was perfect for our team."
May wasn't planning to return to Assembly Hall for the 40th anniversary celebration, but his son, Sean, encouraged him to. Sean, a former All-American at North Carolina, reminded his father what Knight had taught him so many years earlier.
"Dad, you know what? It's not about you. It's about those 13 other guys that were on that team," Sean told his father, according to WDRB's Rick Bozich.
As Bozich writes, "Dad listened to son."
The perfection achieved by the team as a whole was honored with a banner hung high in the south end of Assembly Hall, marked with the words "NCAA's #1 ALL-TIME MARCH MADNESS TEAM." They'll have further permanent recognition toward the conclusion of Assembly Hall's renovation, as the school announced Tuesday night that a statue commemorating the starters and seniors from the 1976 team will be erected outside of the arena's south entrance.
Those players accomplished something that, 40 years later, still remains unmatched. With such a historic team present at the center of Branch McCracken Court, Buckner had a simple message for the crowd, a message he had received in the past from Knight:
"Take a look at this group," he said.
"You'll never see another one like it in your lifetime."