By Columnist Bob Bridge -
Bob Knight is gone.
Gosh, that’s a tough reality to accept. You know, Indiana minus Robert Montgomery Knight.
I’m not referring to Indiana University. I’m talking about the entire realm of Hoosierdom.
My college roommate played for Bob. I knew all the key players on the 1976 national championship squad.
My initial perception of Bob? He was a talented teacher and tedious taskmaster.
There was never an iota of doubt who was sole director of Bob’s Temple of Basketball Betterment.
But his lessons were not confined to hoops. Students in his classes were introduced to the realities of life. He sought to prepare his pupils for the challenges ahead.
I attended many games at Assembly Hall before morphing from spectator to scribe in 1979. How did I approach this new role?
With a great deal of trepidation and a healthy blend of respect and fear. I’d overheard so many tales (most were either exaggerated or untrue) and I had no intention whatsoever of triggering the wrath of RMK.
I considered his eldest son Tim and his first wife Nancy good friends. On top of that, the coach’s special buddy Bob Hammel, a wonderful wordsmith and among the kindest humans I’d ever met, was serving as a masterful mentor for yours truly.
Perhaps those factors helped smooth my path.
A classmate from high school once wondered aloud what it was like to work in such close proximity to arguably the best coach to ever toot a whistle.
That’s a complex question, extraordinarily difficult to frame in a few sentences. After a pause for serious contemplation, I offered the following retort:
“It’s kind of like scaling a steep mountain to peer in at a smoldering volcano. You never are quite certain when it will explode and that hot lava spews all over you.”
Yes, he could be.
I was on sidelines for the flying chair and also that wicked bullwhip. And, God protect the lowly journalist daring to ask an uninformed, inane question. To put it mildly, The General did not tolerate fools.
I recall a young scribe from Evanston, bold yet blissfully ignorant, raising his hand to inquire how IU’s recent victory could impact the Hoosiers’ ranking in the polls.
Seriously? Media room veterans braced for RMK’s response.
It was quiet but unmistakably intimidating.
Bob stared silently yet intensely at the mindless rookie reporter for what seemed like a lifetime. The kid eventually melted into his chair from sheer embarrassment.
Coach was a passionate professional and he demanded effort with the goal of excellence … if not perfection.
His Hoosiers delivered perfection in 1976, registering an unblemished 32-0 record en route to a national championship.
Perhaps Purdue’s Matt Painter summed up Bob best. “Bob Knight makes everyone better,” he explained.
I learned so much from that extraordinary man. And, he humbly undertook many kind acts that went mysteriously unreported.
That’s the way he wanted it.
Was Bob flawless?
Are any of us?
Alas, I can’t believe he’s gone.
There will never be another like him. It is nice to have him back here in Indiana where he is beloved by so many grateful Hoosiers. This is where he truly belongs.
Thanks, Coach, for being you.
Bob Bridge welcomes comments at 812-276-9646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.