I was quite a bit younger when Robert Montgomery Knight threw myself and a colleague out of Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.
That’s right, Purdue University not his sacred Assembly Hall in Bloomington, and it is something l will never be able to totally reconcile as I clearly had done absolutely nothing to warrant such insidious behavior by him, other than being authorized to be there for professional reasons which was exacerbated by his total inability to have any type of civil discourse whatsoever.
I mention this because while Knight would later apologize to the both of us that day, he had already largely fulfilled every negative thing I’d heard people who l respected say about the man who arguably possessed one of the keenest basketball minds in the history of the sport.
When he passed away recently after suffering for some time from a cruel diagnosis, I thought about everything I had seen in his impressive yet troubling career.
For every shinning moment there was also one that brought great embarrassment to both Indiana University and the man himself.
Whether it was berating people or raising considerable money for the school library, the same tenacity prevailed in his efforts to achieve the only thing that mattered to him which was succeeding at all costs, and not worrying about who was harmed along the way, which from time to time included his players, assistant coaches, athletic directors, professors and the entire IU student body.
Knight was clearly brilliant from an intellectual perspective but his inability to deal with defeat of any type stunted his ability to function normally in his adult life.
From cutting down the nets following a championship contest to chasing the Texas Tech University Chancellor around a salad bar in a grocery store after they exchanged words, he was both totally consistent and arguably quite unhinged mentally to boot.
How did the popular yet highly volatile coach keep his job at Indiana University for so long despite his anger management issues? Well, that’s an easy one to answer because winning basketball games is more important than anything including academia and dignity.
Three National championships along with eleven Big Ten Conference titles will make you somewhat bulletproof in Monroe County and Knight parlayed his success as a coach into a shield that came in handy when dealing with those bold enough to even begin to challenge him away from the basketball court.
If you had a dollar for every time the popular and troubled coach displayed the temperament of a spoiled toddler, you could put an end to the Federal Deficit and have enough left over to start a college fund for your children.
That being said, the obvious question is what took so long to jettison a man who was so popular he could of once been the Governor of Indiana?
Was it the innate ability to touch people and as a result, lift their spirits in the same fashion in which he motivated his players?
Certainly that too became a major factor in the defense of his numerous transgressions but that too finally expired as well.
When determining the legacy of someone with the popularity Knight enjoyed, you have to look at everything he did and beyond.
He was both a hero and a tyrant, an enigmatic rainmaker and clearly both gifted, yet troubled.
He rarely did anything that wasn’t scripted, including his rightful firing from Indiana University.
The late President Myles Brand placed Knight on a zero-tolerance last chance type status and gave him an opportunity to reform his rambunctious behavior, but Knight chose to do things differently and thereby exiting under his own confused terms.
In a nutshell that exemplifies the iconic and polarizing coach in a rather simplistic fashion, one that certainly suited him.
Ultimately the two sides of his interesting yet clearly tragic personality combined to establish the legacy of a man that was both revered and coddled by numerous individuals throughout a mystifying career.
Many people including Knight himself never came to terms with his dismissal at Indiana University and that in itself symbolizes his storied career in a confusing and profound manner.
Danny Bridges, who extends his sincere condolences to the entire Knight family, can be reached at (317) 370-8447 or at email@example.com.