Knight no hero, certainly tragic

Jason Gallic

Oedipus, perhaps, was Shakespeare’s most tragic figure. The man, unbeknownst to

himself, killed his father in a desert battle, then fell in love with and

married his mother. Realization of a life’s worth of truly heinous activity

flipped the character’s world upside-down. He gouged his own eyes.

Such a

journey earned the fictional Oedipus the title of “tragic hero.”

Let the

record show that Bob Knight never slept with his mother, but he did once,

before a national audience, tell Connie Chung that “If rape is inevitable,

relax and enjoy it.”

Now that’s true tragedy. Maybe he should’ve just slept

with Mom.

In reality, the truest tragedy is that Knight was allowed to

retain his position as the basketball coach at Indiana for so long. The school

finally terminated the man of tumult Sunday, ending the coach’s three-decade

stranglehold on one of the more prestigious positions in the college

game.

Indiana President Myles Brand, five months too late, finally

dishonorably discharged the General. Too late, because the axing was called for

after Knight’s choking of player Neil Reed in practice was proven on videotape.

The act of violence was the snowcap on a blizzard-ridden mountainside, and

should have been the final disgusting display of Knight’s entitlement.

But

Brand, maybe in an act of genius, maybe in a wielding of tragedy, did not fire

his school’s coach. Instead, he imposed a set of “zero-tolerance” rules he new

full well Knight could never follow. Truth is, he showed the brute strength of

a chess player. He didn’t want to have to claim full responsibility for

bringing down Knight; he knew the backlash, as it has been, would be nearly

unbearable. Brand wanted the coach to fire himself. More tragedy.

Knight,

naturally, assuaged the president, grabbing student Kent Harvey, and preaching

with expletives the importance of respect. And the tragedy continues.

Of

course, with all said and done, two questions remain.

Why were wins more

important to IU than the treatment of its employees and basketball

players?

And why, when pressed with “zero tolerance” couldn’t Knight keep

his hands and words to himself?

The first issue relates tragically to the

school. The Hoosier mystique has basketball at its center. We all saw Gene

Hackman coach little Hickory to a state title in the movie bearing the school’s

name. In a place known otherwise for a car race, it’s basketball or breeding

cattle. There’s little at the median. Which is why a man who threw chairs,

tantrums, insults and fists was allowed to hold his station as the King of

Hoops at Hoops U. for 29 long years. In 1976, ’81 and ’87, Knight directed his

robots to NCAA national championships. That’s why he was given license to abuse

those robots the other 26 years.

He became, in his mind, and in the psyche

of the fans, untouchable. The Intimidator berated co-workers, athletic

officials, referees and others with dictator-like ferocity. I once saw a comic

strip with Knight’s body carrying Stalin’s head. Hmmm.

And so there was no

price to pay for the pain he caused. After 29 years of watching the

administration look the other way, one can nearly see why Knight felt he owned

the state of Indiana, why he thought that, actions aside, his coaching days

would continue forever inside the blood-red IU sweater.

But then Knight

stopped winning.

From 1996-1999 the coach compiled a 69-35 record, and

never graduated from the second round of the NCAA tournament. A mere fraction

of the winning percentage he posted in his early days. Perhaps he became even

more bitter as he aged.

But Knight also started losing high-profile players

and recruits. Most recently, native son Luke Recker, despite death threats,

transferred away from the homeland in 1999 after one season under the infamous

coach.

And so Knight’s carte blanche to be abusive began to soften, or

perhaps that which had been transpiring all along simply worsened as the

average seasons mounted.

Which brings the second point into focus.

How, if a man truly wants to continue to coach for an institution, does

that man spit in the face of rules dictated for his survival? The out-of-bounds

line was drawn for Knight, and the General threw the ball into the stands

anyway.

Which leads one to wonder what lies beneath the steely eyes and

gritty grin.

Perhaps the answer is nothing. Perhaps years of being allowed

to roam free as the ruler of Rome evaporated Knight’s ability to reason. Since

Brand’s “zero-tolerance” policy was laid down in May, Knight has been

bad-mouthing IU administration at 100-meter dash pace, tempting them, it seems,

to fire him.

Then the Harvey thing.

He either didn’t believe IU would

pull the plug on him, or he wanted to be fired. Wanted to live his days as a

marauder in the eyes of Indiana fans. Wanted students to threaten Brand’s life

(they have), wanted things burned protesting his firing (they have been),

wanted Harvey chased from the IU campus (he’s considering leaving), wanted to

live in infamy as the coach whose firing forced the riot police out of bed to

disperse angry fans.

A marauder. A way to save personal face in a state

whose calling card is spherical leather. The last great legacy of Bobby Knight

at Indiana University, of a man who often preached violent measures to

accomplish tasks, is a picture, clouded by tear gas, of a handful of students

in handcuffs facedown on the pavement.

Not even Shakespeare could write

that tragedy.

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