WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Bob Knight could not believe so many Boilermaker fans would applaud his presence on their campus.
For years, a trip to Purdue meant a defensive battle on hardwood between Knight’s Hoosiers and Gene Keady’s Boilermakers. But it has been nearly two decades since Knight last coached at IU.
The Boilermaker and Hoosier fans gathered Sunday afternoon at the Elliott Hall of Music on the Purdue campus were present to celebrate the legacy of those matchups, not to pick a side and jeer.
The talk, moderated by former Bloomington Herald-Times sportswriter and editor Bob Hammel, highlighted Knight’s friendship with Keady and the mutual respect they share for each other.
Everyone also sang Knight happy birthday.
“That may just be the nicest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Knight, whose birthday was last Wednesday, told the crowd.
The trio dove into the history the coaches shared before later touching on their legacies and thoughts on the current state of college basketball.
Knight and Keady were quick to make jokes about the officials they had worked with. When Hammel asked if they had favorites, the duo fell silent and the crowd burst into laughter. Knight made sure to point out that most officials were pretty good, but some, well, were not.
They acknowledged the game is hard to call, but the two college basketball heavyweights were not giving anyone a free pass.
“We were trying to protect our teams and trying to win a game and get out of there and get home and get ready for the next one,” Keady said. “It was never personal.”
Recalling those disagreements did not cause Knight to throw any chairs, although upon Hammel’s urging, he did offer his reasoning for chucking one at Assembly Hall back in 1985.
“Do you boys have that story about that little old lady?” Hammel asked, playfully.
“Well, yeah,” Knight replied, smirking. “That lady asked me if she could have my chair. What was I supposed to do? I didn’t have time to walk over there.”
Jokes like these littered the talk, but Knight and Keady spent the majority of the time recognizing people they felt meant a lot to their schools' rivalry along the way, as well as what led them to become the coaches and friends they are.
There was a Purdue team physician Knight was fond of, who took very good care of former Hoosier Scott May when May broke his arm at Mackey Arena during a 1975 match-up.
The late Bob DeMoss, who coached Purdue football for three years from 1970 to 1972 and remained at Purdue into the 1990s as an athletic department administrator, was a great friend to both.
Knight chose not to name favorite players from either school. He said he did not want to forget anyone. But, neither he nor Keady hesitated to heap praise on the state of Indiana, its coaches, its players, each school’s fans and the effect they all had on the game.
“The heart of basketball was in Indiana,” Knight said.
Who they surrounded themselves with and how they coached were two reasons why the coaches said they grew to respect each other so much.
“Any time that you can respect the opponent is a great time for a game to be played, and I think that’s something we both had,” Knight said. “I think that’s one of the things that made the game enjoyable to us.”
Knight would later add that the two coaches found success because they focused on understanding their own capabilities, along with those of their student-athletes. What Hammel did not test was Knight's or Keady’s capability to answer questions on how Knight’s career at IU ended.
Hammel did not ask Knight why he chose to step onto Purdue’s campus and not IU’s, either. Nor, did he ever ask why Knight did not want to be a part of the sculpture inside Assembly Hall commemorating the undefeated 1976 national championship team.