Thursday, July 29, 2004

Bobby Knight and the Love of the Game

You can say a lot of things about Bobby Knight.  You can use a good number of adjectives that all amount to the same result -- he's a complicated guy.  On the court, when not blowing a gasket, he's as good a fundamental basketball coach as anyone who has ever coached the game, with the possible exception of John Wooden (whose national titles put him in a class by himself, although Coach Knight can take satisfaction that Coach Wooden didn't win any national titles until Coach Knight's mentor, Pete Newell, retired from his post at Cal-Berkeley, where at one point in the early 1960's Coach Newell's record against Coach Wooden was 8-0).  As good as, say, Dean Smith?  He's won more national championships.  Mike Krzyzewski?  He's won as many.  Adolf Rupp?  Absolutely. 

He has problems with authority and problems with an ego that has led him to believe that he can be bigger than the institutions he is supposing to serve.  The irony there is that while he demands respect and holds to old-fashioned values about courtesy, he hasn't exactly followed the Golden Rule in that department.  That sad irony is a troubling part of his legacy and detracts, to a degree, from all of his accomplishments.  He's won a ton of games and 3 national titles, and he's always made it a priority to graduate his players.  That's no small feat.  Actually, it's quite a huge feat, and he should be commended for it.

Right now he's in the news because he's suffering from the "no kind act goes unpunished" rule (it's either the second or third line on the famous "Murphy's Law" poster).  Why?  Because after last season he vowed to return his salary because he didn't think he earned it.  His team had fared poorly, in his view, so he wanted to make it up to the school that saved him from coaching college basketball somewhere up in northern North Dakota at a DIII school that would annually challenge for the NCAA curling championship.  Good PR, good gesture, great for the coffers of Texas Tech.

But, as reports, it's not so easy, because of legal and tax ramifications.  Still, he and his friend, AD Gerald Myers, are working together so that Knight can give Texas Tech the $250,000 in equivalent economic value.  Most likely, they'll restructure Coach Knight's contract so that he can make it up to Texas Tech.

It's a nice story in a time where the average fan is sometimes left wondering whether the shoe companies run the kids or the kids run their universities' hoops programs (see the Michigan teams in the late 1980's).  Coach Knight has always tried to do the right thing, and, with the exception of some glaring examples of bad personal comportmant, he usually has.  It's a shame that this story doesn't get the same press as a chair-throwing incident or a harangue against Myles Brand. 

But it's a good story just the same.