Learning to Love the Hateful Bob Knight

This piece by Will Leitch appears in the latest issue of Sporting News Magazine.
↵
↵Every kid needs a villain, whether ↵it’s the bully down the street, the ↵snotty rich girl from homeroom or ↵the gym teacher who makes you ↵wear hideous yellow uniforms while ↵running laps. Mine was Bob Knight. I ↵had my dad to thank for that. ↵

↵We were Illini fans, and Bob Knight ↵represented Indiana basketball less ↵than he represented boorishness, ↵profanity and unadulterated fury. ↵The first book I ever read with an ↵obscenity in it was our own John ↵Feinstein’s A Season On the Brink. It ↵wasn’t really appropriate for a ↵14-year-old, but my dad let me read ↵it because hating Bob Knight was a ↵sacred bond. It’s hard for dads and ↵teenagers to find common ground. ↵Bob Knight served that purpose, ↵splendidly. We watched every Illini ↵game, but Indiana games were events. ↵They allowed the Leitches to scream at ↵the television together for two hours, ↵letting the General stand in for all we ↵found wrong with the world. ↵

↵

↵As I got older, though, I noticed ↵something about Bob Knight: He was ↵a lot like my dad. They both were ↵military men, they both insisted on ↵discipline and hard work, and they ↵both had a problem with their faces ↵getting really red when they were ↵really mad. As I segued into adulthood, ↵when Knight finally was wearing out ↵his welcome in Bloomington (that is to ↵say: not winning as much as he used ↵to), I found myself having sympathy for ↵him. This guy was part of my youth. ↵It was like watching teenagers taunt a ↵chained old dog. And now that he’s on ↵ESPN and flirting with returning to ↵coaching (again), I should probably just ↵admit it: I love Bob Knight. ↵

↵

↵It’s not just that he’s particularly ↵skilled on ESPN, though that helps. ↵(He’s not exactly camera-ready, yet he’s ↵smart, blunt and unsparing -- things ↵you can’t say about many others on that ↵network.) It’s mostly that Bob Knight ↵has remained, resolutely, Bob Knight ↵throughout the years. ↵

↵

↵That never happens. We are a nation ↵that loves reinvention, second chances, ↵public relations. No matter what you’ve ↵done, if you look sorry enough in an ↵interview with Barbara Walters (or ↵Bob Ley), we tend to say, “Oh, he looks ↵sorry” and move along. ↵

↵

↵Knight has never done this. The ↵man lives by a set of core values, and if ↵those values happen to clash with the ↵culture at large, well, sorry, culture at ↵large. How Knight acted in the ’60s ↵didn’t fly in the ’90s, which is why ↵Knight is so “controversial.” But that’s ↵not Knight’s problem; that’s yours. As a ↵kid, I thought Bob Knight was a brute. ↵Now that I’m older? Well, you know, ↵there are some kids who could use ↵some whipping into shape. Hundreds ↵of players have spoken about how ↵Knight changed their lives, prepared ↵them for the world. I’m not sure that’s ↵something you gauge by your rank on ↵the Scout.com recruiting lists. ↵

↵

↵All told, I’ve completely come ↵around. If I had a son, I’d be honored ↵to have him coached by Bob Knight. ↵And, if you really pressed him on it, ↵I bet my dad would say the same thing. ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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