Dave's Sports Views

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Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Book Review: Bob Knight - The Unauthorized Biography

Bob Knight is one of those people you're either for or against.

I've always been a supporter of him, for the pure reason that he is who he is, and everyone knows that going in -- players, writers and, most of all, universities. You know you'll get a coach who will recruit his student-athletes cleanly, prepare them thoroughly and graduate them continuously.

In an era when college sports have become an extension of their professional counterparts, particularly basketball, Knight inspires thoughts of the college game we all grew up loving. His teams have always been built on tenacious defense and judicious offense, with a heavy dose of the team concept.

There's just this little thing about his temper ...

Someone as mercurial as Knight is fodder for book material, whether it be John Feinstein's career-making "A Season on the Brink," Joan Mellen's counterbalancing "Bob Knight: His Own Man," Steve Alford's memoir "Playing for Knight," or Knight's own autobiography. All of them tell the tales of the coach's roller-coaster life in their own way. The latest effort comes from Steve Delsohn of ESPN and Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times, who provide a quick and fairly balanced portrait of Knight from his days as a boy in Orrville, Ohio, to his most recent season at Texas Tech. The more than 150 interviewees include a diverse collection from Knight friends and loyalists (Isiah Thomas, Knight mentor Pete Newell, columnist and friend Dave Kindred) to those who probably aren't on his Christmas-card list (IU transfers Ricky Calloway, Delray Brooks and Larry Bird, CNN/SI producer Robert Abbott, NCAA tournament official Rance Pugmire)

Where they add to the genre is in their reporting on Knight's fall from grace and dismissal from Indiana. Of the books listed above, only Knight's own book has come out since he left Bloomington, and it includes only one voice -- Knight's own.

But Delsohn and Heisler use two key IU figures, athletic director Clarence Doninger and university vice president Christopher Simpson, to fill in some of the lines Knight left uncolored. Doninger was once friends with Knight but probably took more abuse from him in Knight's final years than anyone at Indiana. Simpson was close to Knight -- they went fishing together during the summer before Knight was fired -- but, as with anyone who crosses the coach, he's certainly on the outside looking in now. Neither man appears to have an axe to grind, but more of a desire to tell their side, which is balanced by some of Knight's confidants and excerpts from the more sympathetic portraits of him since he left the Hoosiers.

Knight makes clear in his own book that he wishes he had resigned from Indiana rather than agreeing to the zero tolerance policy after the CNN/SI story that produced the damning Neil Reed videotape. This book seems to concur with Knight's thinking, given that the policy really left no room for interpretation. Someone of Knight's stature and disposition was going to violate it one way or another, especially if he was baited, as it seemed he was by student Kent Harvey in the Assembly Hall lobby.

Knight is a proud and competitive man. It is those two traits that have led him to the cusp of Dean Smith's record for coaching victories, to three national titles and an Olympic gold medal (the chapter that chronicles the selection of the 1984 team is also well-reported). It is also those two traits that have morphed into vices. The pride becomes defiance. The competitiveness, especially with himself, becomes the fuel for outrage and the motivation to justify any means to an end.

Defiance and the fuel to take decisive action -- the continuum of historical figures to display those traits runs the moral gamut, from Martin Luther King to Attila the Hun. Where is Knight on that continuum? Not close to either, though he has loyalists and detractors who have probably put him in the same conversations as both.

Knight has fulfilled the mission of those who employed him -- at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, he has won basketball games, graduated students and produced successful men off the court. The price has been high, especially to himself but also to those who have been caught in the crosshairs of his outbursts. We'd all like it if someone so successful could also make us feel good inside.

But as this book echoes the others written about Knight, that hope runs counter to two things: 1) That's just not who Knight is personally; and 2) That's not how he sees his role as a teacher and leader of men. Which brings me back to the original point: People know that going in. They must either accept it or find another man to follow.

DJ

1 Comments:

Anonymous Jason said...

Dave,

Did you get a chance to catch the first episode of Knight School? Fantastic. I sit squarely in the group that love Bobby Knight.

Seriously, who else brings out a Rudyard Kipling poem?

8:56 AM  

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