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Monday, April 15
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Bob Knight, Indiana basketball coaching legend and controversial figure, dies at 83

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Bob Knight arrived at Indiana mostly unproven in 1971. Upon his firing 29 years later, he had accumulated countless records and awards and had taken the Hoosiers to the summit of college basketball three times.  

However, the General’s tenure in Bloomington ended marred in controversy. Following his firing in 2000, the public has carried a split opinion, especially those in the state of Indiana. 

In 2019, the IndyStar reported Knight’s health was declining. Knight was hospitalized for three nights with an acute illness this April. 

“All of you guys go home tonight, do me a favor, get on your knees and say a prayer for Bob Knight and his family,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said Oct. 20 at Indiana’s annual Hoosier Hysteria. “Make no mistake about it, Bob Knight is Indiana basketball.” 

Robert Montgomery Knight died Wednesday, his family announced on X, formerly known as Twitter. He turned 83 years old Oct. 25. The Knight family requested people honor his legacy with contributions to the Alzheimer's Association or Marian University.

Prior to coaching, the Orrville, Ohio, native played at Ohio State for four years, winning the 1960 National Championship and competing in the subsequent two championship games, losing both.  

His collegiate coaching career started at Army West Point, where he was an assistant for three years before being named head coach in 1965 at the age of 24. He held that post for six more seasons while simultaneously serving in the military. He was on active duty from 1963-1965 and in the reserves from 1965-1969. 

Knight was originally rumored to become head coach of Wisconsin in 1968, but once word spread, he turned down the offer. Three years later, he accepted an offer from Indiana at the age of 30, replacing Lou Watson and his acting head coach, Jerry Oliver.  

Watson stepped down to become special assistant to the athletic director and helped with hiring Knight. Watson compiled a 62-60 record with Indiana, and Oliver was 7-17. 

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Bob Knight talks to then-sophomore Steve Alford on Jan. 12, 1985, during a game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Knight quickly led Indiana to prominence and didn’t look back. In his second season at the helm, he led Indiana to a Big Ten Championship and a Final Four appearance — his first of 11 Big Ten Championships and five Final Fours. 

A few years later, Knight and the Hoosiers reached the peak of the sport for the first time and did so in a fashion that has yet to be replicated since. Indiana’s 1975-76 squad rolled every opponent in the regular season and continued to do so in the postseason. It thumped Michigan in the National Championship to secure a title with a perfect 32-0 record, the last Division I men’s basketball team to go undefeated. 

In 29 seasons, Knight led Indiana to national powerhouse status and established the school as a basketball blue blood. He led the program to 24 NCAA Tournament appearances, three National Championships and one NIT Championship. Knight accumulated 662 wins, three AP Coach of the Year accolades and five Big Ten Coach of the Year awards before his dismissal. 

Knight’s coaching philosophy included perfecting the motion offense — stressing ball movement and focusing on team effort rather than individual scoring — and hounding man-to-man defense. He was also a strong proponent of academics, often boasting a high graduation rate for his players. Numbers have been disputed, but Knight and others claimed as high as 98% of players graduating from Indiana under the General. 

With Indiana, Knight coached a plethora of legends including Isiah Thomas, Calbert Cheaney, Steve Alford, Scott May and Kent Benson. He boasts a coaching tree of former assistants and players, such as Hall of Famer and former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and current Indiana head coach Mike Woodson. 

Knight finished his coaching tenure with 902 wins, the then-most Division I coaching wins that currently stands sixth all-time. He collected two gold medals coaching Team USA, doing so in the 1979 Pan-American Games and 1984 Olympics. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991 and the IU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. 

Despite his successes — which few have paralleled — that adorned Hoosier nation, his highly controversial character compromised his image and resulted in his termination in 2000. 

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Former IU head coach Bob Knight screams at his players during the NCAA Tournament March 17, 2000, at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York.

Knight’s complicated legacy stems from altercations extending well beyond his fiery on-court persona. In the 1979 Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Knight was infamously charged with assaulting a San Juan police officer while coaching the United States basketball team. 

He was found guilty after being tried in absentia and sentenced to six months in prison, but Puerto Rico failed to extradite him. The play of a youthful and exciting U.S. team, which went undefeated in its nine-game slate, was thoroughly overshadowed by Knight’s conduct. 

Six years later, in February of 1985, Knight performed arguably the signature act of his coaching career — one that still lives in infamy. In a rivalry matchup with Purdue, just five minutes into the contest, Knight objected to a technical foul call by hurling a plastic red chair across the floor. 

Knight was ejected from the game and later joked about the debacle in 1987, facetiously implying he meant to throw the chair to an older lady on the other side of the court. 

Then came 1988. In an interview with NBC correspondent Connie Chung, Bob Knight made an abhorrent comment about rape as a comparison to how he handles stress. 

“I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it,” Knight said. 

Former Indiana University president Thomas Ehrlich condemned Knight’s comments, which drew admonishment from women’s groups at IU and nationwide. Knight, who said his comment was misinterpreted, received no real disciplinary consequences. 

In 1992, an image surfaced of Knight tapping Cheaney on the backside with a bullwhip in a practice prior to an NCAA Tournament game. Knight brought the whip to a press conference, joking that it provided motivational value. 

“Probably no motivational device I’ve ever come across is as good as this,” Knight said regarding the bullwhip. 

The incident caused outrage from the NAACP, but Knight would never apologize. 

In 2000, CNN Sports Illustrated released a story that would mark the beginning of the end of Knight’s tenure with the Hoosiers. Former Indiana player Neil Reed alleged Knight choked him during a practice in 1997. 

CNN Sports Illustrated corroborated Reed’s account with three individuals at that practice, who requested to remain anonymous. A follow-up months later would feature video evidence displaying Knight forcefully putting his hand around Reed’s neck. 

“The saddest part is seeing your child hurt,” Pat Reed, Neil’s mother, told CNN while fighting back tears. “That’s tough. That’s real tough.” 

Then-IU President Myles Brand warned Knight about his pattern of behavior and put him a zero-tolerance policy. Shortly thereafter, Knight grabbed an IU freshman by the arm and was fired two days later. 

After 29 seasons filled with fame and triumph, the General was dismissed, entirely crippled by his own misjudgment.

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Bob Knight walks on the court Jan. 12, 1985, during a game against Wisconsin at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Texas Tech hired Knight in March of 2001, and there he would go on to coach for seven relatively unspectacular seasons. He formally announced his retirement in February of 2008. 

His fractured relationship with the administration that fired him continued to deteriorate. In 2017, in an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, Knight said he had no interest in ever returning to Indiana University and added he hoped everyone in that administration was dead. 

But in April of 2019, Knight returned to campus and appeared at an Indiana baseball game, and he officially moved back to Bloomington shortly thereafter. 

A little less than a year later, on Feb. 8, 2020, Knight returned to Assembly Hall. Knight gingerly emerged from the tunnel and was met by a sold-out stadium clamoring for the legendary coach. 

Knight’s past transgressions were momentarily neglected, and instead, his greatness was accepted. After vowing to never step foot back in the stadium, there was the General. And for a breath, all was right.

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