In Memoriam: Bob Knight

As an Indiana boy and Duke graduate, Bob Knight had peculiar salience in my life. He was growing into legend as I was growing into fanhood. And while there’s no denying that he could be a jerk (he wasn’t always a jerk, but he obviously had problems with his temper), he was, quite simply, the greatest coach of basketball that I have ever seen.

I do not mean by this that he was the greatest coach or that, if you were picking one coach to lead your program, Knight would be the guy. His pupil Mike Krzyzewski, the great John Wooden or even Dean Smith would all be better choices to lead a program. Being a basketball coach at the college level involves a lot more than coaching basketball. Knight was an average recruiter and a problematic face of the program. I doubt many Administrators liked working with him – something I count in his favor.

But if you just wanted someone to coach a team, Knight was your guy. It’s not that he was an extraordinary X’s & O’s man; in fact, he could be maddening in his insistence on the team doing things a certain way. And you wouldn’t pick him to win just one game. I swear to you that I saw Knight purposely lose games early in the year (or let them be lost, anyway) just to teach his players a lesson.

And teach he did. The one thing you could always count on at the peak of Bobby Knight’s career was that his teams would get much better as the year passed. Noticeably and often dramatically better.

Every damn year.

No other coach I have ever followed (including Coach K) was nearly as consistent at getting this improvement or had as large an impact each year. Watching teams improve in every aspect of the game; most especially in playing as a perfect team, was the joy of watching Indiana basketball.

There are countless pleasures in sport, both in playing and in fandom. There is a keen pleasure in victory. The moments when a player transcends what you (and perhaps they) thought was possible are glorious little drops of beauty. The excitement and agony of doubt whet the appetite and satisfy it. There is even the satisfaction of a journey. But for a fan who loves the game, surely one of the greatest joys is seeing the team you root for become greater than the sum of its parts. That is a joy that Bob Knight delivered over and over again to Indiana fans. It’s why we loved him. And it’s why he is, in my mind, the greatest coach of basketball there ever was.

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