I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch history unfold on New Year’s Day. Bob Knight was about to pass the legendary Dean Smith with his 880th victory and yes, I wanted to see it. I’m aware a large percentage of the population failed to share those sentiments on the first day of 2007, but personally, I wasn’t going to miss it.
Maybe it was the curiosity over how Knight would handle accomplishing such a feat. But it was probably more about appreciating one of the great historical feats the game has ever seen. Winning 880 games over four decades is a truly amazing achievement no matter who does it.
I grew up loving Indiana basketball. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it was because the University of Connecticut spent most of my youth buried in the Big East cellar and I needed “another” team to root for, or maybe it was because I’ve always enjoyed the nuances of great coaching. Even as a teenager I would come home from basketball practice and flip on Big Monday games that usually included Indiana. I was fascinated by Bob Knight.
I read every book I could find about Knight, including Season on the Brink – the well-known book by author John Feinstein. I also perused various books that depicted the “other” side of Knight. I was well-aware of the positives and negatives of the Knight regime.
Knight brings a military-type discipline to the hardwood and is appropriately nicknamed, “the General”. I don’t ever want to compare playing basketball to serving in the military but Knight has utilized similar techniques to “train” his players over the years. Metaphorically, getting his players ready for life on an off the court was like getting a soldier ready for combat. By that I mean you do what you have to do to make sure your soldiers/players are ready. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of the military but I do know enough from friends and family members who have served to know that sometimes methods are used that are not always widely-approved, but deemed necessary.
Knight has spent his entire career doing what he felt was necessary to make sure his players were ready for life on and off the basketball court. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t done things some of us would disagree with, but as Knight said, he’s always done things “his way”. It’s tough to fault him for that even knowing he’s made mistakes. He’s always been extremely dedicated to the end result – making his players better people on and off the court.
And oh by the way, he just happened to win 880 games along the way. He’s won three national championships, including an undefeated season, a feat that hasn’t been repeated since. He won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, and also an NIT title back in 1979. A triple-feat rarely matched in college basketball.
But there are many who refuse to look past the controversy and laud the accomplishment. There will be no mention of the forgettable moments from Knight’s career in this article – not today. It just doesn’t seem right.
I thought it was appropriate that we saw every possible side of Knight after Texas Tech’s two-point victory over New Mexico – the consummate coach, the family man, the disciplinarian, the gracious friend, and the controversial coach. From humor to emotion to gratitude, it was all on display on Sunday afternoon. The icing on the cake? Texas Tech having Knight’s theme song ready to go, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. It accurately depicts how Knight has handled his entire career and certainly reflected how he handled his press conference. The former IU coach made a lengthy opening statement and that was it. He fielded no questions from reporters; he was going to handle this HIS way again.
Knight has never worried about pleasing others, only himself. According to the NCAA’s newest record holder that’s what being a head coach is all about. In his press conference he admitted he put himself on a limb at times all in order to do what he thought was best to get the most out of a player. He also went on to say he has regrets, but not about doing things differently, just doing them better. Today we celebrate that no one has done it better than Robert Montgomery Knight over the last four decades. 880 wins, players who have become better people because of him, and impressive graduation rate tells me his way isn’t so bad after all.