When Bob Knight took a job with ESPN as a college basketball analyst in 2008, the career shift reminded one of the Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him as a member. The Hall of Fame basketball coach joined the same group of people he once described as "one or two steps above prostitution." He became one of the "damn people from television" he famously critiqued.
On Thursday night, his run as one of the "damn people from television"—at least as far as being a damn person from ESPN—is officially over. SI.com has learned ESPN will not renew its contract with Knight. His last broadcast for the network will be Thursday night's NIT's championship between Stanford and Miami, which tips at 9 p.m. ET.
When contacted by SI.com on Thursday afternoon, ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys declined comment.
Knight, 74, was hired by ESPN in February 2008 shortly after he announced his resignation from Texas Tech. During his time with ESPN, he worked in a number of capacities, including as an on-site analyst (notably with Brent Musburger on Big 12 broadcasts) as well as appearing on select shows and platforms, including ESPN's Selection Sunday Specials, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio and ESPNEWS. He was an interesting and distinctive voice early on, but he had some hiccups as a broadcaster, including in 2012 when he remarkably declined to utter the word "Kentucky" on air, opting instead for that "team from the SEC." He took on fewer games in the past couple of years—he called American Athletic Conference games this year with Mike Patrick and Len Elmore—but still had a propensity to tell people to get off his lawn.
Prior to Knight's hire by the Bristol-based network, ESPN enjoyed favored nation status with him. Longtime supporters such as Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps shouted his virtues to audiences for years. Of course, part of Knight's ESPN legacy also included walking off the set of ESPN's Cold Pizza when asked about the resignation of his successor at Indiana University, Mike Davis, verbally smacking ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap during a 2000 interview, and later calling Schaap a "chicken----little ----sucker" in Jim Miller's best-selling book on ESPN, These Guys Have All The Fun.
"He's always been the type of person that if you were flipping through the channels and you saw him in a long-form interview or a press conference or during one of his games, you stopped and watched it," ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson told Sports Illustrated upon hiring Knight. "There are very few people like that. It was a fairly easy decision. Our goal is to inform and entertain sports fans, and when you look at somebody of the stature of Bob Knight, he is one of the most compelling sports figures of the last half century. I realize a lot of people are going to say he is a very polarizing figure. But again, I go back and look at the body of work, the intellect, the success, the graduation rates, the programs he has run. When you put everything together, it is an easy decision to hire Bob Knight for your college basketball coverage."
Could Knight catch on with another sports network? Nothing is impossible when it comes to sports television executives handing out cash. He's one of the major names in the history of the sport, and the inventory of live games out there is plentiful. But he also comes with considerable baggage.