Bob Knight Assembly Hall Would Have Been Looney Tribute Applauded Only by Kooks

by Kent Sterling

imagesThere 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.

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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.

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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.

9 thoughts on “Bob Knight Assembly Hall Would Have Been Looney Tribute Applauded Only by Kooks

  1. Jeff Gregory

    We see eye to eye on about 80% of the things you write about, but I couldn’t disagree with this post more. First of all, I am not sure how you know Knight’s motivation for not coming back to IU. You have assigned it as a grudge. However, as you pointed out, the folks responsible for his poor treatment are all gone. It doesn’t make sense that it is a grudge against his supporters, present students, and campus buildings. Can you entertain the idea of it being something else other than a grudge that keeps Knight away?

    Secondly, even if it is some weird grudge, does one act of resentment erase everything he has done for the university? You imply that if he would have come back to a warm welcome years ago, you might see naming the arena after Knight differently. If so, that also implies that this one act (or non-act) outweighs all Knight’s positive contributions. That sounds like an immaturity that rivals the attitude that you asigned to Knight.

    Thirdly, including Knight in the name of the arena not only honors the man, but it also honors the running of a collegiate program the right way – as well as honoring those who stood by those principles with him and after he departed. There are still plenty of us out there – and WE still come to Bloomington.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Here is what I know – the current people in power have gone to great lengths to communicate their desire to have Knight return to Bloomington for a massive tribute. Why he refuses is up to us to guess because Knight won’t discuss it publicly.

      It’s fair to surmise the reason he refuses to return do not include – climate concerns, cost, allergies, and fear of reprisal. He might be upset that the Jiffy Treat is closed so he can’t get sloppy joes there. My guess is that he enjoys the response of the ever dwindling crowd that cheers his desire to stick it to the man.

      I don’t view this as a single act of resentment but an ongoing series of decisions to ignore a desire to honor his legacy by people who would choose to appreciate his good work rather than decry his acts of petulance.

      If Miles Brand was still the president at IU, his decision would be justifiable.

      How Knight wants to handle his own affairs is his business, but his relentless series of decisions to ignore a university that provided for him and his family for 29 years before childish management forced him out reinforces the image he delights in – a churlish oaf who loathes all but who can help him, pay him, or those he admires.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        Can you see yourself clear into thinking that there may be something to Dirk’s comment – that perhaps Knight hasn’t been ready to go back to IU for sentimental or emotional reasons? My girlfriend loved eastern Tennessee. However, her mom visited there with her and died suddenly. As much as she loved the place, she hasn’t been able to go back. You may not have those kind of thoughts or emotions, but that doesn’t make them any less valid for those that do.

        Neither one of us truly know why Knight has chosen, thus far, to stay away from IU. The difference is that I give him the benefit of the doubt. Just because someone doesn’t choose to talk about a subject doesn’t imply evil on his part. It is difficult for my girlfriend to talk about Tennessee, but I don’t think she harbors a grudge against the folks who live there.

        In addition and with all due respect, you are convicting Knight of several offenses when he merely has declined the invitation to come back. Those that cannot take “no” for an answer merely allow you to pile on the offenses. That isn’t fair to Knight in any sense.

        Regardless, unless Knight sneaks into town in the middle of the Knight and blows up Assembly Hall, I can’t see how is “crimes” can come anywhere close to his credits as it applies to Indiana University. They should honor the man in some way whether he is there or not.

  2. Doug A

    Good points by both Kent and Jeff. I side more with Kent as I just can’t imagine anything but memorable moments if Coach Knight would walk back into the hall, not only a happy closure for him but for the fans that love him.

  3. Dirk Pitt

    I’ve never walked in Coach Knight’s shoes and therefore have no idea what he thinks about IU and why he thinks that way. Losing something that you worked so hard to help build has to be hard for anyone. Imagine getting laid off from a company that you worked at for nearly 30 years, a company that grew tremendously during your tenure and a company that you helped grow into national prominence. I can’t imagine there are too many folks that would gladly walk back through the front doors of that company, embrace the new management with open arms and feel good about how everything ended. It is too bad that Knight’s legacy is continued to be defined by how he lost his job.

    Last I heard, Coach Knight continues to profess his appreciation for his players and the fans at IU. I find no fault in Coach Knight’s perspective of his former employer.

    It is said that time heals all wounds. Clearly enough time has not passed. Coach Knight also isn’t the first arrogant, stubborn SOB that I have met. I get reminded of that every morning when I shave.

    1. Jeff Gregory

      Good comment. It makes sense to me that some things are just emotionally difficult. People need to operate on their own timelines and not have to endure something difficult before they are ready for the convenience of others.

  4. Sam Mahoney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article/blog whatever it is…you are right, hopefully everyone who continues to whine (I’m looking at you Dick Vitale) about this great “travesty” will let it die. Move on people! Hello…he wants nothing to do with us, let’s extend him the same courtesy.

  5. Pauly Balst

    Bob Knight owes no one, especially me, an explanation for staying away, so I have an open mind.

    That said, I see his refusal to acknowledge Indiana as a sign of aggression against the people and the state that loves him dearly. And I will never understand that. What did they do? Loyalty is a two way street. 99% of Hoosiers supported him during some very unfortunate behavior, and had nothing whatsoever to do with his departure.

    He can do a lot outside Assembly Hall, the campus, or Bloomington. He’d be elected Senator in a heartbeat. As I understand it, he won’t do much of anything in the state. If true, the fact he won’t speak or appear with 80 year olds who idolize him is best described as “shitty”.

    IU won 2 championships with 2 different coaches pre Knight, we will win a 6th under a 4th coach some day, and Bob Knight will continue to fade. And that’s unfortunate.

    Windshield, not rear view mirror.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Knight speaks in Indiana with fair regularity, but I’m not sure what his fee is for those appearances. They might be substantial, or maybe he gets a table out front to sell his old golf shirts, ties, and championship rings.


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