Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Remembering Bob Knight: Infamous outbursts, controversial moments that defined Indiana’s legendary coach

On Senior Day at Indiana University in 1994, Bob Knight, already enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame as one of the best college coaches in history, yet freshly embroiled in controversy after headbutting a player, grabbed a microphone in front of a sold-out Assembly Hall crowd and delivered a message that was both brash and exceedingly on-brand.

“When my time on earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want [them] to bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass,” he said. 

Given the circumstances, it was a stunning show of defiance for Knight, who died this week at 83 years old. Yet in many ways, to those who knew Knight or followed his career either closely or from afar, it was … not stunning at all. Knight was as defiant a person as he was dominant a coach. His career checkered with successes but also controversies that ultimately led to his ouster from the school in 2000.

Here’s a look back at some of the controversies and outbursts that helped shape his years in Bloomington, Indiana. 

1. The head-butt

Indiana’s SID later explained it away as an accident, but it was what it was: A head-butt. Knight collided with freshman Sherron Wilkerson during a game vs. Michigan State in March, 1994; IU said it was an accident that came about after Wilkerson looked up. Accidental or not, the head-butt came just after Knight pulled Wilkerson from the game for committing a string of mistakes in an eventual 94-78 loss. 

2. The infamous chair toss

During a sequence in which he (rather vehemently) disagreed with a call made during a game vs. Purdue in 1985, Knight flung a chair across the court and earned an early trip back to the locker room. The ejection came on the heels of a tense interaction with an official that earned him a technical, after which Knight responded by grabbing his chair on the bench and throwing it across the court in the direction of an official and a Purdue player who was at the free-throw line.

3. Knight dresses down NCAA official

It wasn’t just Knight’s own players or game officials who drew the ire of the Hall of Fame coach. In 1995, Knight publicly dressed down an NCAA official following a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Missouri after the official incorrectly told the media that Knight would not be available for a press conference following the defeat.

“We’ve only got two people who are going to tell you I’m not going to be here. One is our SID, and the other is me,” said Knight. “Who the hell told ya I wasn’t going to be here? I’d like to know.”

The NCAA official tried to diffuse the situation and keep the press conference moving, but that only further irritated Knight.

“I’ll handle this the way I want to handle it now that I’m here,” said Knight. “You f—– it up to begin with. Now just sit there or leave. I don’t give a shit what you do.”

4. Knight chokes Neil Reed at practice

In a 2000 article published at CNN Sports Illustrated, former IU player Neil Reed accused Knight of choking him during a practice three years prior. Knight denied the claim, but video of the incident later surfaced, leading IU to fine Knight and put him on a zero-tolerance policy after previous controversies. The choking incident was the beginning of the end for Knight, who was was fired six months later for a separate incident for violating his zero-tolerance policy.

5. Cracking the whip … literally

Knight was a no-nonsense coach who ran a tight ship, but he once used an inappropriate prop to portray his demeanor. During a press conference in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, Knight showed up with a whip, gifted to him by his players, which he cracked as he he quipped. He then used the whip on the back side of Calbert Cheaney, who is Black, drawing criticism from the Albuquerque chapter of the NAACP. In the following game, Cheaney playfully pulled a towel out and made a whipping motion towards Knight, seemingly downplaying the incident. At best, the prop was problematic. At worst, it was offensive. 

6. Knight yanks Hoosiers from game vs. Soviet Union

In the heat of the final years of the Cold War, Knight and IU scheduled an early-season game vs. the Soviet Union in 1987, which ended in yet another controversy that extended past Bloomington. 

Because of a disagreement with an official with whom he had a history, Knight pulled his team off the court vs. the Soviets during the game after he was slapped with a third technical foul and an ejection. Knight refused to leave the floor and said if he had to go, so, too, did his team. The official took him at his word, and the game ended in a forfeit. 

Knight later apologized to IU fans for forfeiting the game just a few minutes into the second half.

“As far as taking the team off the floor — there are things I wish I could do over again,” said Knight. “That is one of them.”

7. Offensive comments on rape

During an interview with NBC’s Connie Chung in 1988, Knight was asked how, as a successful coach, he dealt with stress. His response: “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

Knight added that he didn’t want to be misinterpreted, but the damage was already done. 

“That’s just an old term that you’re going to use,” he said. “The plane’s down, so you have no control over it. I’m not talking about that, about the act of rape. Don’t misinterpret me there. What I’m talking about is, something happens to you, so you have to handle it now.”

The offensive analogy drew criticism from IU’s president and the office of women’s affairs.

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