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SPORTS: Once in Knight's doghouse, I never came out

February 11, 2008

If memory serves, the year was 1982. I was in Bloomington covering a Bob Knight media gathering for the local daily when one of the employees of Indiana University's sports information office tapped me on the shoulder and said I had an emergency call from my wife.

I immediately picked up my notepad and tape recorder and called home. Our 2-yearold daughter was apparently seriously ill and my wife was in the process of taking her to the hospital emergency room.

I met my wife and child at the hospital. Fortunately, it wasn't anything too serious and soon the three of us were back at home.

That evening, our telephone rang. It was Bob Knight.

"How's your daughter?" he asked. "Is everything OK? Is there anything I can do? I knew you were really upset when you left here and I just wanted to check on you."

Ah, the good Bobby.

Barely two years later, in 1984, before a Sunday afternoon game in Assembly Hall, another representative-and good friend-from IU's sports information office approached me.

"I've got a message for you from Coach," he said.

"Funny," I replied. "He's usually pretty good at delivering messages in person. What's up?"

"Coach thinks you've turned against him and the program. He says if you don't come around, he's not going to give you access to him or the players."

I bristled.

"You tell him that I don't know what he's talking about, but that I answer to my editors, not him," I said.

From that point, my relationship with Knight disintegrated. As with many others in the media and elsewhere with Knight, I had arrived at his fork in the road. I decided on the path not popularly chosen.

Now, understand, having grown up with Branch McCracken and the Hurryin' Hoosiers, I loved Indiana basketball. And I was no less enamored with the program after Knight arrived from West Point and put together those great, great teams of the '70s and early '80s.

But I loved the university that was my university more. And I couldn't turn my back-or my writing-on Knight's increasingly boorish behavior as the university's highestprofile public representative.

Thus, I became known as a "Bob Knight critic," one from Indiana, no less. That meant, whenever the latest incident would occur, ESPN and other national media would call me for reaction. I would also publish those thoughts in the local daily.

It was not without regret. Relationships with IU players I had known and respected since high school became strained or broken. My mailbox filled with letters (this was mostly before e-mail, thank goodness) of hate and threats. At the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, an intoxicated Knight supporter spotted me on Bourbon Street and tried to start a fight. I'm thankful friends intervened.

Some claimed I had a role in IU's finally firing Knight in 2000. That was giving me way, way too much credit. Or discredit, depending upon the perspective. My reply always was, "The only person to get Bob Knight fired was Bob Knight."

Again, I didn't relish my role. Some scribes go looking for a fight in order to bring attention to themselves. I enjoyed neither the notoriety nor the angst that came with it. The easiest thing to do would have been to shrug and say, "Well, that's Bobby," after every news-making episode. The easiest thing to write would have been, "Look at the championships, the wins, the graduation rate, the squeakyclean program."

But the truth was, in the words of Illinois coach Lou Henson, Knight was "a classic bully" who would not, could not, treat others with the same respect he demanded.

That said, neither should one ignore his coaching genius, his fierce loyalty, his generosity and, though largely hidden from the public eye, his compassion.

For better and worse, he is an icon, as large (and as perplexing) a figure as has ever been involved in American sport.

I wouldn't change more than a word or two of the thousands I wrote about Knight but, in retirement, I do hope he can get his fill of huntin' and fishin' and bouncin' his grandkids on his knee.

I also hope, without question in vain, that IU and Knight will find some common ground. Yet, as sure as the university would extend an olive branch, Knight would snap it over his knee.

Anyway, I wish him the best. Seriously.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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