Few people know what it's like to be Neil Reed. Maybe Bill Buckner does. He never asked for sports infamy. It just sort of... passed through him.
With his Red Sox in position to win the World Series, Buckner let a ground ball roll through his legs that allowed the go-ahead run to score. Boston didn't win the World Series, but Buckner won a lifetime of hate mail and death threats.
Better yet, maybe Steve Bartman knows what it's like to be Neil Reed. He didn't ask for sports infamy. It just fell in his lap. Bartman sat in the stands, about to watch his Cubs make the World Series, when a foul ball sailed his way. He didn't catch it, but neither did Chicago outfielder Moises Alou, and many fans blamed Bartman for the collapse that ensued. As a result, he went into hiding.
Buckner and Bartman had no malice in their mishaps, but they suffered nonetheless. They became a vent for sports fans - rather fanatics - who cared more about a team than the people who define it.
Former IU basketball player Neil Reed is no different. Only his role in sports history didn't roll through his legs or fall in his lap. It wrapped around his throat.
Neil Reed, a Southern-bred basketball player, moved to Bloomington with a blank slate. He graduated from East Jefferson High School in Metairie, La., in 1995 and ventured north to play for legendary coach Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers.
It was an ideal move for a kid who spent part of his childhood in Bloomington. Not surprisingly, Neil and basketball were close companions. His fa¡ther, Terry, who coached basketball, nurtured that relationship and developed Neil into a high school standout ready for the next level.
Neil played 94 games for the Hoosiers, averaging 9.8 points in three years. He even tied IU's record for most 3-pointers in a game, with eight against Iowa in 1996. Heading into his senior season, Neil hoped to be a leader for IU, but he'd never get the chance.
I explain that I don't want to reopen the wound; I just want to see if it's healed.
Flash forward to this August. I'm sitting on a porch along Dunn Street, still a little sweaty from tossing around a football. With a beer in his hand, the editor of INside approaches me and first shares some story about his house having the name "Nipples." He somehow transitions this to me writing an article for him. It's hard to take him seriously.
He tells me that the issue is going to be all about "firsts" and that he wants me to try and track down Neil Reed - "The General's first defector."
Right away, the story seems tough, but my ego tells me otherwise. The ego wins, I agree, and my editor re-enters Nipples.
Neil never again slid his head through an Indiana jersey. His teammates voted him off the squad at the end of his junior season. In an Indiana Daily Student article, Neil said Knight told him: "I don't care if you go to school, but you are not going to play here."
But before any of that, something happened. Something that resulted in Neil no longer being a Hoosier, and something that then inspired him to head home. Nobody knew what that something was except for Neil and the Hoosiers, and it would remain that way for the next three years. Time Neil would spend with two simple options: Stay quiet, or stand up and face Th e General.
My search for Neil starts right here at IU - at the alumni association to be exact. From my research I've found that he transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi, but perhaps IUAA has his phone number in its records. I'm transferred to the proper person and ask her what they have on Neil Reed.
"I don't think he's too happy with us," says the woman who's looking through the database.
This is my first inclination that the search will be more difficult than I had anticipated.
Surprisingly, the alumni association has a match for Neil, but there is no phone number, only a street address in Nipomo, Calif. Fair enough. So I plug the address into WhitePages.com but come up with a screen bearing no results. I try similar Web sites only to receive the same re¡sponse. I'm thinking that Neil probably does not list his phone number - for fear of rabid IU fans or, even worse, journalists.
Following my lead, I place a call to a newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and ask if they have any information about this address, perhaps in a local phone book or a city directory. A woman from the newspaper calls me back about 10 minutes later. No luck.
I give up on California - for now.
My next shot is at Southern Mississippi, where there is no record of Neil Reed, even though a staffer in the athletics department says he played there after IU. Not only that, but his dad Terry was the team's assistant coach. Regardless, I'm no closer than when I started.
So I try Louisiana State University. Several articles released when Knight was fired say Neil went to grad school at LSU, but a call to the school's alumni association reveals the same answer as Southern Miss.
Other sources say Neil might have later transferred to New York University. So I make another call. And I get another "no."
At this point, I am beginning to wonder if all my effors have been in vain. All this work and I may never find the man.
Searching for more clues, I remember that his dad was an assistant coach at USM. So I google (journalist's best friend) "Terry Reed" and "basketball coach" hoping for the best. One promising article from 2002 tells me Mr. Reed took a coaching position at Henderson State Un¡versity, a small college in Arkansas.
At about 8:30 in the evening, I browse the university's Web site to find a staff directory with Mr. Reed's office number. I'm not sure if he still works there, but I call the number to see if it's connected. To my surprise, a deep, aged voice with a noticeable Southern accent answers the phone. It is Terry Reed.
I tell him who I am and explain what I am try¡ng to do - that I'm looking for his son, more than anything, just to find out what his life is like now.
"Let me tell you what," Mr. Reed says. "I think it would be best if we didn't go there."
I explain that I don't want to reopen the wound; I just want to see if it's healed.
"I understand you've got a job to do," he replies, "and I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I've got a son."
And then he hangs up.
By the time I realize the connection is lost, his words start sinking in. Neil's teammates turned on him and his fans threatened him, but his family never left his side.
I want to give up at this point - not because I think finding Neil will be too hard but because I think this article could do more harm than good. As much as I say I won't reopen any wound, I know nobody tears through scar tissue faster than the media.
In March of 2000, almost three full years after Neil left IU, he finally made his decision. He wasn't going to stay quiet anymore. He appeared on telev¡sion, alleging that Bob Knight choked him at practice during his junior season. That April, a practice tape was leaked to the press showing Knight move his hands toward Neil's throat. Knight said he never choked Neil, but that's not important. What is, though, is how IU fans sympathized - with Knight. By alleging assault from a state employee, it was Neil, not The General, who became the villain in the eyes of IU fanatics. After a few more television interviews, Reed vanished.
On the last legs of my search, I call Neil's high school basketball coach Reed. It's obvious to me now that this is a man who does not want to be found.
But I still want one more conversation with Mr. Reed, just for closure. I don't want to ask him for his son's number; I just want to talk. I make the call early in the afternoon. He answers again - with that same deep voice - and remembers me.
"I know you said you wouldn't get me in contact with your son, and that's fine, but I wanted too..."
"It doesn't matter what you're doing. There's nothing I am going to say, and there's nothing that he's going to say."
"I understand your concern, but..."
"No, you don't understand. You don't understand how often this gets brought up. You haven't gotten any hate mail recently, have you?"
"No, I haven't."
"Well we do."
In these two conversations with Terry Reed, I don't have to ask him any questions, but he answers them all. This man is fiery. He is hurt. He is broken-hearted for his son.
And he'll do anything to keep his son from facing the fury he felt when he left Bloomington.
Terry doesn't hang up on me this time, rather he makes one request.
"If you care at all," he says, "you'd just leave us out."
So I tell him thanks. And then I hang up.