BOZICH | Indiana's embrace remains open to unwilling Bob Knight
Expect Indiana University to extend another invitation to Bob Knight to return to the school where the coach won three NCAA titles. Maybe next time Knight will do the right thing and accept.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – The celebration of the 1976 unbeaten Indiana University basketball team is not over. Today is merely a TV timeout.
Until another team completes Mission Unbeaten, the 32-0 Hoosiers are assured of being a college basketball hot topic every winter
The group will reunite in Bloomington before the start of next season. The seniors and starters will be honored with a statue parked outside the renovated Assembly Hall South lobby entrance. One sparkling addition to the historic building will be a hospitality area named “The Spirit of ’76 Club.”
Expect Bob Knight, the team’s coach, to be invited to that party, too.
Do not expect Knight to catch the spirit. Do expect IU to keep assaulting Knight with kindness.
It’s up to Knight to finally exhale and reach for the hand Indiana has firmly extended for several years. The administration that ignited his anger by firing him more than 15 years ago is going, going, gone.
The folks who run Indiana University today are determined to remember the coach for his considerable achievements not his nuclear temper. They appreciate his sustained excellence and have no interest in rehashing why Knight’s IU career ended the way it ended.
They know that one member of the 1976 team has already passed away as well as that another player missed the Tuesday celebration because of a serious health issue. They’d love to honor Knight with the grace the coach is sadly unwilling to return.
Knight is too intelligent not to understand that, but too stubborn to embrace IU’s legitimate efforts at détente. Knight has often said that his wife, Karen, counsels him by saying, “That horse is dead, get off it.” There is listening, and there is learning.
Credit IU administrators with attacking this immovable impasse with the same passion Knight showed attacking the rest of the Big Ten.
Athletic director Fred Glass said the door will always be open for Knight no matter how many times the coach ignores IU. Ignore is my word, not a word Glass used, but there is no other way to describe how Knight responded to the ceremony Tuesday.
Knight declined to respond to a hand-written invitation sent by Glass, who believed the coach deserved a special welcome. He made certain that Knight was shown on the Assembly Hall video board and that the coach was announced last, after all of his players during the halftime ceremony.
Glass knew that Knight would not attend IU’s pre-game and halftime ceremonies to honor the coach’s best team. But in his mind, Glass still envisioned the scene.
“If he walked in the door at halftime, he’d be welcomed,” Glass said. “The place would go crazy. We tried to create an environment where he’d feel welcome between the Hall of Fame thing and this.
“It’s going to be on his terms. He’s got to want to. You can’t push him into that.
“I wish he did it for himself because the adulation he would receive would be something he’d carry with him for the rest of his life.”
After Tuesday night, Quinn Buckner and Scott May, two of Knight’s favorite former players, can testify to that. Those guys starred for the Hoosiers, won an Olympic gold medal in Montreal in 1976 and performed in the NBA.
Buckner has made only occasional trips to Assembly Hall since Knight’s firing. Most visits came when he worked for the Big Ten Network. May had been away for more than 10 years. He was not pleased by the dismissal of his coach or by the insistence of some IU fans to boo his son, Sean, when he played in Assembly Hall for North Carolina in December, 2004.
That, for the record, is the same Sean May who convinced his father that the horse was dead and to get off it by attending the Wisconsin-Indiana game Tuesday night.
Buckner and May looked and talked like two guys who understood they did the right thing by simply showing up.
“A great night,” May said.
“It was humbling,” Buckner said. “It’s as high an honor as I’ve been a part of in my life. I don’t necessarily mean going undefeated, but to have my teammates come back for this and for the university, for a look that has stood the test of time.”
The only thing that could have given the night more energy would haven been an appearance by the coach who put that team together.
Expect Indiana to offer another chance. Maybe next time, like his players, Bob Knight will listen.
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