by Kent Sterling
There are still people in Indiana and elsewhere who believe that Assembly Hall should have former coach Bob Knight’s name affixed to it forever despite Knight wanting nothing at all to do with his former place of employment.
The way Knight was treated by Indiana University during his last year was shameful. The zero tolerance policy that was designed to trip up Knight and remove culpability from those administrators who wanted him out at IU embodied weak and spineless management. That said, Knight’s continued aversion to all things IU speaks to a childishness that should keep Indiana University from honoring Knight in a way more impactful than his placement in its Athletic Hall of Fame.
This isn’t about wins, losses, graduation rates, self-indulgent outbursts, or questionable tactics in managing young men into adulthood. It’s about a petulant man who has consistently refused olive branches extended by university leaders who had nothing to do with the feeble effort to shame and remove him as men’s basketball coach over 13 years ago.
A gracious man would have returned, allowed himself to be thanked, and maybe even become a small part of the process of teaching the game again to young men in Assembly Hall. But that didn’t fit into the narrative of relentless crotchetiness that Knight has fashioned for himself.
This isn’t about Knight being a bad guy. I don’t think he is. There was no more impactful person at Indiana University during his 29 years in Bloomington. He taught the entire student body a great deal about basketball and life. I never missed his speeches at the IU Auditorium, and his pre game shows were must viewing because he shared game plan details that were very helpful in understanding the complexities of the Hoosiers man-to-man defense and motion offense.
Knight did a great deal to raise money and build Indiana into a national brand of college basketball excellence, but his continued ill-conceived boycott of all things Indiana reflects the side of Knight that unfortunately dwarfs the good, and makes his name on the smallest fixture in Assembly Hall a terrible idea.
It’s a shame that the school that employed Knight and the man who created the modern brand of Indiana Basketball can’t coexist happily, but that is the decision Knight has made each time he has rebuffed overtures to return to Assembly Hall.
And still the minions clamor for Bob Knight Assembly Hall instead of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Cindy Simon Skjodt not only routinely pledges her love and admiration for all things Indiana University, she donates a significant amount of her family’s cash reserve to IU, and yesterday presented a $40 million check to renovate 42 year-old Assembly Hall.
Let’s see – $40 million in cash versus a guy who can’t let go of a grudge against people who are now either retired, employed elsewhere, or deceased. Not much of a decision, but people still in love with the glory days of 1973-1993 still allow their blood to boil at the suggestion that Indiana University is bigger than a man capable of both unique kindness and intolerable cruelty.
The winners are the players and fans who will get to enjoy an iconic if quirky cathedral of basketball, and the losers are Knight and another generation of kids who might learn about basketball and life from a man capable of teaching both very well.
Knight should have come back years ago when Indiana first approached him, but like virtually every public move he has made since abruptly abandoning his final Texas Tech team, Knight chose the graceless path.
It’s his choice. He made it, and like everything else in his life, I’m sure he has no regrets. Admitting foolishness is a sign of weakness in Knight’s world. Growth requires an admission of imperfection, and unless I missed a significant moment in the 33 years I’ve paid attention to Knight, that admission has yet to have been made publicly.
One of Knight’s great gifts to Hoosiers is occasionally showing all of us how not to behave, and that’s not enough to affix his name to an office, a hallway, or a faucet in the restroom of a building that was built to celebrate some of the finest student-athletes in America – much less to the building itself. Forty-million very large and a lifelong love of the university deserves that recognition far more.