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Buckeye boyhood to IU icon: A short essay on Bob Knight’s long journey

Bob Knight playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Knight, who went on to coach IU to three national championships, has died at the age of 83. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — When we first got word several years ago about Bob Knight’s health struggles, a newsroom leader stopped by and asked that I write up a quick summary of Knight’s life and legacy to have at hand as we covered what was to become the final chapter of a truly unique life.

The task was at once extremely straightforward and unexpectedly tough; nearly any of us who were raised in Indiana in the 1970s and ’80s can quickly list his feats and failings.

The difficulty comes in assembling it — wins, warts, and all — into an objective narrative that neither canonizes nor criticizes, but instead aims merely to inform.

This was, and is, my attempt:

Hard as it may be for Hoosier hearts to hear, Robert Montgomery Knight was a Buckeye — born and raised.

A high school star-turned-Ohio State role player, he added fire to the 1960 National Championship team.

Knight’s self-described “lack of patience”‘ served his coaching career well: Instead of a slow climb to a top job, he took over at West Point at age 24, taking the Black Knights to heights they’d never seen before… or since.

Six seasons with Army led to an offer from IU: Come to Bloomington and bring the Hoosiers back to glory.

He did that — and much more, churning out headlines of all kinds as the Hoosiers added three national championship banners to the walls of Assembly Hall. 1976… 1981… 1987. Between NCAA titles, he also led the 1984 Olympic Team to gold.

Coach Knight earned the everlasting loyalty of many by demanding his players always attend class, practice hard, and become masters of motion offense and man-to-man defense.

He earned the eternal scorn of others with behavior he never would have accepted from his players.
Moments of infamy include an arrest after a dustup with police in Puerto Rico in the late ’70s… the iconic chucking of a chair in a game against Purdue in the ’80s…and, closing out the ’90s and his time as IU’s head coach, accusations he assaulted both a player and, later, a student.

His firing, in September 2000, spurred large protests on campus and, according to police, threats to IU administrators.

Knight soon traded his IU sweater for a similar color scheme. In Lubbock, he led Texas Tech for 7 seasons.
After that, he became something he long mocked: A member of the media, calling games for ESPN.

For nearly 20 years, Knight declined to return to IU, turning down opportunities to honor his legacy or celebrate his former players.

The icy split finally thawed in February 2020 in a halftime ceremony at Assembly Hall. Dozens of his former players surrounded Knight, once again wearing cream and crimson, celebrating the legacy of a Buckeye-turned-Hoosier, who both united and divided a basketball-crazed state.