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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bob Knight Strikes Again

On Monday, Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight added a few more frames to his video lowlights collection, which could be titled "Coach Gone Wild." During a timeout, he struck Tech forward Michael Prince in the chin with a closed fist, exhorting the player to maintain eye contact with him. Everything that has happened since that moment is entirely predictable. Knight is unapologetic, insisting that he did nothing wrong. Tech's Athletic Director, Gerald Myers, echoes that sentiment. The player and his parents also say that they have no problem with it. Meanwhile, the film clip has been shown repeatedly and anybody who ever had anything to do with college basketball has appeared on TV or radio to comment about the situation.

Several interesting points were made during Tuesday night's SportsCenter. Doug Gottlieb said that Knight "lost his dream job because, among other things, he couldn't keep his hands off of his players. He couldn't keep his anger under control. This is a guy who preaches and teaches discipline...part of what he teaches kids he can't put into play in his own life." Gottlieb does not think that Knight should be suspended but would like to hear him admit that he was wrong to do this. On the other hand, Jay Bilas said that, while he would not counsel a coach to act this way--particularly one with Knight's well documented history of misconduct--he thinks that the media coverage of this particular situation is unfair and overblown.

Pat Forde said, "In the hierarchy of Bob Knight assaults on people and the game of basketball, this is a misdemeanor. It's not grabbing a player by the throat, it's not throwing a chair across the floor, it's not going after a Puerto Rican policeman, it's not going after Ted Valentine..." Well, you get the idea: Bob Knight hasn't killed anybody and he's done worse things in the past, so what's the big deal?

Dick Vitale spoke with Michael Prince's father, who said, "We are missing discipline in the world today." He has no problem with what Knight did. Vitale added that he would not approve of Knight's action if the player or his family were disturbed by it, but since they are OK with it then he is, too. Knight told Vitale that given the same circumstances he would do the same thing again. Being Bob Knight means never having to say that you are sorry. Since Knight has stated frankly that he would do the same thing again, what will Vitale's reaction be when Knight strikes a kid whose parents do not approve? Or does Knight poll each set of parents in advance?

Digger Phelps made three points: (1) the player accepted what Knight did; (2) the player's family accepted it; (3) Knight said that he did not do anything wrong. Therefore, Phelps concluded that this is much ado about nothing. Hubert Davis agreed with Phelps.

Fran Fraschilla covered the game in question for ESPN and said that his initial reaction was that this is "no big deal" but that he also expected intense media attention to be focused on the situation because it involves Knight. He added that players understand what they are getting into when they sign to play with Knight, comparing it to enlisting with the Marines.

So, what do we learn from this (besides the fact that ESPN has a veritable army of college basketball analysts)? Gottlieb hit the nail on the head and expressed what I have thought about Knight for years: he hypocritically preaches discipline and intelligence while at the same time conducting himself unintelligently and without discipline in the way that he relates to other people, ranging from his players to his secretary to police officers. As Forde noted, this is "a misdemeanor" for Knight. Bilas and others are probably correct that if another coach did the same thing there would be less coverage but there was a telling moment when Brian Kenny asked Phelps if Phelps had ever struck a player. Phelps said that he hadn't. Perhaps if some other coach did this in the heat of the moment there would be less coverage, but how many coaches can you really imagine doing this, let alone doing this or worse on as many occasions as Knight has? Knight views himself as an educator but any teacher or professor who did a fraction of what Knight has done would be (1) unemployed and (2) possibly in jail.

Fordes' lengthy listing of things that Knight has done that are worse is an indictment of the NCAA as much as anything else; Knight is at fault for his own conduct but he has certainly been enabled over the years. The parents and the student are wholly dependent on Knight, so they can hardly be expected to criticize the coach unless they have decided that they no longer want Prince to play there.

Saying that the parents accept it or that kids know what they are signing up for when they go to play for Knight misses the point. Knight works at an institution of higher learning and there are (or should be) minimum expected standards of conduct. Yes, a basketball court is a different environment than a classroom but what Knight did was wrong--it was not as wrong as other things that he has done, but it was wrong. Bilas thinks that it is wrong for the media to cover Knight's actions differently than the actions of other coaches are covered but there is a reason that the courts take into account past offenses when handing down sentences. Knight belongs in an anger management class, not as an educator at an institution of higher learning.

Knight is only nine wins away from breaking Dean Smith's Division I career wins record; there is no denying that he is a great coach. Knight's advocates cite his won-loss record and the graduation rates of his players over the years to justify his misconduct--but he is a great coach despite his many deplorable actions over the years, not because of them.

Knight probably would literally have to kill someone to not be given a chance to stay on the bench long enough to achieve the mark. Knight will pass the classy Smith--and that will be a sad day in college basketball.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:47 PM


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At Wednesday, November 15, 2006 9:04:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

What gets under my skin is that the same obsequious apologists, who support Bob Knight after he physically assaults college kids and verbally abuses anyone who gets in his way, will become positively apoplectic once a player does anything wrong.

Heck, Dick Vitale -- the same guy who called Scottie Pippen a "dog" because he sat down on the play where Kukoc got the last shot -- is saying that IU's court should be named after Knight.

I'm not quick to play the race card, but calling a black man an animal for being too proud, and lauding an old white guy for behavior that would land him in handcuffs under other circumstances -- that rubs me the wrong way.

What the heck is up with that?

At Wednesday, November 15, 2006 11:14:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Bob Knight continues to get away with this. If he did that to my son, there would be a big problem. You dont see nay other coaches doing this. Red Auerbach, who was a friend of Bob Knight, said that you handle animals and treat players with respect. To hit a player on his chin because he wasnt lookin at you is not respecting him.
I wonder what the response would be if John Chaney did this.

And just because the boys'parents approve doesnt me that its right. Vitale is a joke anyway.

And during this clip the guy in the red shirt behind Knight and the player knew it was wrong. You could tell by his reaction.

At Wednesday, November 15, 2006 1:49:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Phelps and Vitale love Knight so much that he could probably kill their children and its ok because hes showing discipline. Lately when a basketball event happens everything relates to the late Red Auerbach. Knight should have learned from Red.

He is definitely "Coach Gone Wild" and will not get the top players anymore because no top player would want to go there. Fran said you know what you are getting into when you play for Knight. So what be prepared to get hit and abused? Its a wonder these coaches dont have jobs now.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 4:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ESPN's Woody Paige put it perfectly on "Cold Pizza": Knight's action would be completely unacceptable in any workplace; there is no situation in which you can go up to a co-worker and hit that person under the chin with a balled-up fist.

Some (like ESPN's Tim Cowlishaw, on Around the Horn) would argue that a basketball court is different than a classroom or workplace but I would counter that Knight is supposed to be, first and foremost, an educator. I also saw a quote from John Wooden in which the Wizard of Westwood praised Knight's knowledge of the game but said that he would not want a child of his to play for him. Somehow, coaches from Joe Lapchick to Wooden to Dean Smith to Joe Paterno have won championships without indulging in the boorish behavior that Knight has displayed throughout his career.

Point blank, Knight is a bully. He picks on people who are physically smaller or, in the case of his players, people who are completely dependent upon him to keep their scholarships/places on the team. He is enabled by people who are either intimidated by him or want to remain in his good graces.


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