IU’s matchup against in-state rival Purdue was the team’s most important game of the season, but the actual game was an afterthought.
IU’s season is on the brink of disaster. After dropping their fourth-straight game with a 74-62 loss to Purdue, the team is firmly on the outside of the bubble looking in. IU’s senior class is in danger of becoming the first class to not make a NCAA Tournament, but that’s not what anyone is talking about. Instead, the Hoosiers’ lowest point of the season will be remembered fondly for Bob Knight's return.
For almost a week, rumors swirled that Knight would make his first appearance in Assembly Hall since being fired in September of 2000 for abuse that violated IU’s zero-tolerance policy.
Students camped out in the snow the night before to get the best possible seats to see Knight’s return. Three hours before tip-off, the line of students waiting to get into Assembly Hall stretched out of sight. Students circled the arena and wrapped around Cook Hall all the way to North Fee Lane looking to get the best possible view of a historical moment.
“We were here at 10:30 last night,” sophomore Jason Lock said, motioning to his seven friends next to him in the front row of the student section. “Once we saw that Knight was going to be there, we knew we had to do whatever to get good seats. Just look at this, best worst decision of my life.”
In the first half, the fans brought their usual energy, but it was clear that everyone was just waiting for halftime. As soon as the players left the court and public address announcer Chuck Crabb directed everyone’s attention to the video board, Assembly Hall erupted.
Many wondered if Knight, who is now 79, would ever return to Assembly Hall. After all, he did tell radio personality Dan Patrick he hoped every university administrator that fired him was dead. But nearly 20 years later, one of the most beloved figures in Indiana returned home.
For a split-second, Knight’s mouth turned into a smile as he walked across the court into the arms of 47 of his former players. He was surrounded by those who were closest with him and reminded of why Assembly Hall was so special to him.
“This is where he belongs,” said Randy Wittman, one of Knight's former players from 1978-83.
Knight’s return was a monumental celebration, but it was also a heartbreaking one. People feared Knight as he stomped along the sideline in Assembly Hall from 1971-2000, but when he shuffled across the court Saturday, he was a shell of his former self.
Knight was — and sometimes still is — considered to be the king of Indiana, but his vacant stare as he looked at the crowd almost brought me to tears. There were moments during the celebration that the fire burning inside of Knight came through as he yelled “defense,” but they were fleeting.
While he walked off the court with his arm around former No. 2 overall pick Isiah Thomas, the great Bobby Knight did something he rarely did, even in his prime. He took a moment to thank the crowd, slightly bowing, before disappearing back into the tunnel.
IU’s season may be in ruin, but nobody cares.
“That was the greatest thing I’ve seen in my life,” IU junior Jack Persiger said.
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