Bob Knight Fired 20 Years Ago Today, and Indiana Basketball Has Never Been the Same

Legendary basketball coach Bob Knight ruled Indiana with an iron fist, but that still wasn't enough to avoid getting fired 20 years ago today, on Sept. 10, 2000.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The day started innocently enough, with Bob Knight walking one way and Indiana student Kent Harvey walking the other.

"What's up, Knight?'' the teenager said. Harvey was a freshman at the time in September of 2000, and had only been on campus a few weeks. Knight, who was 59 years old then and had been coaching at Indiana for 29 years to great acclaim, didn't appreciate the lack of respect.

Versions of what happened next vary by the storyteller, but the gist of it was that Knight grabbed Harvey's arm and stared him down. "I looked at him and said, ‘Son, my name isn’t Knight for you. It’s Mr. Knight or Coach Knight.'" 

The event immediately took on epic proportions, largely because Knight had remained Indiana's coach earlier that year by reluctantly agreeing to a zero-tolerance policy with then president Myles Brand. That decision was made after video emerged of Knight "choking'' former player Neil Reed during an Indiana practice a few years earlier, though that was somewhat in debate, too. 

That two-month investigation ended in May of 2000 with Knight staying on, and Brand actually thinking it could work.

Brand's emphasis, though, was on the ZERO. He wasn't going to put up with any of Knight's antics, and he felt that this encounter with Harvey did just that. Harvey and his family, which quickly ran to the media and cried foul, certainly believed Knight had gone too far.

Knight, of course, didn't, and neither did anyone else in the Indiana basketball program, players and coaches included. Even Mike Davis, his assistant coach at the time who was standing right there when Harvey approached Knight, disputed the story that Harvey's family was telling, that Knight had forcibly grabbed him. It was ''the biggest lie I've ever heard in my life,'' Davis told the media back then.

Regardless, things happened quickly, and a lot of things went very, very wrong. And on Sept. 10, 2020 — a long 20 years ago today — the legendary Bob Knight was fired by Indiana University.

And Indiana basketball has never been the same.

So many people to blame

The story of Bob Knight's firing has been told many times, and it's being re-told again this week many times, too. The ending of Knight's time in Bloomington was so monumental only because of all that he had accomplished during his 29 years at Indiana — and how he did it.

Mostly because of how he did it.

There are many people who would argue — especially inside this state's borders — that Knight is the greatest coach in college basketball history. In his 29 years at Indiana, he won national titles in 1976, 1981 and 1987. He went to two other Final Fours and won 11 Big Ten championships in an era where that really mattered.

Assembly Hall wasn't exactly the House that Bob Knight built —  but his career started in the new building, and he was the one who helped make it one of the most iconic arenas in the game. Indiana basketball with Bob Knight was a definitely blueblood program in college basketball.

He became the most popular person in the state by patrolling the sidelines with an iron first. He yelled and screamed and cursed constantly, at referees, at opposing coaches and, of course, at his own players.

Fans loved it.

Most Indiana players did, too. Playing for Bob Knight was very difficult, and many players couldn't cut and transferred. Those who stuck it out, despite its difficulties, remained fiercely loyal to their coach, but during their careers and long after.

Twenty years ago, they all screamed over Knight's firing, and how he was railroaded out of town. They weren't willing to accept that Knight was gone, and it took years for many of them to get over it.

Knight never did. He continued to yell and scream about Indiana officials, and even when people like Brand and others who made the decision on his firing eventually died, he still wouldn't set foot on the Indiana campus, even when his favorite players and teams were being honored.

That changed this February, thankfully, when Knight returned to Assembly Hall for the first time in nearly 20 during a reunion for the 1980 team, one of his favorites. It was a lovefest from start to finish, and at long last, the final hatchet was buried.

Sort of.

There are many people who still aren't over Knight's firing. They still blame Brand, even though he's been dead for 11 years. They still blame Neil Reed for his role in starting off the whole can of worms, and he's been dead for eight years.

Brand did many things wrong, no question. He probably overreacted to the Kent Harvey episode, but also probably should have never put the zero-tolerance policy in place. There was no way Knight could have ever survived that. 

If the Reed episode was worth getting fired over, he should have done that in May. He had the votes among the IU Board of Trustees then. And he also shouldn't have snuck around behind closed doors with trustees in September in trying to get Knight fired, trying to avoid sunshine laws.

Knight, despite all the wins and the national titles, certainly deserves some of the blame, too. His boorish behavior got old to some, especially people who were his bosses. It was going to end and some point, and end badly, and this was just the final straw.

The final straw, on Sept. 10, 2000.

Program still hasn't found its way

There have been no national championships at Indiana since Knight was fired, but truth be told, there weren't any in his last 13 years either.

There has only been one Final Four since Knight was fired, and that was in 2002 under Mike Davis, and all the Knight supporters will say that Davis reached that national title game against Maryland with all of Knight's players. The players, most notably, don't say that, but many fans sure do.

Since Knight's firing and excluding that 2002 season, Indiana hasn't won a single game in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Not a single one. Tom Crean's teams in 2013 and 2016 were the only two who got to the second weekend, but both lost in the regional semifinals.

And more truth be told, Knight didn't win a game in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament either during his last eight years. His 1993 team was his last really good one.

Indiana, in other words, has had no impact on a national level in the back half of any NCAA Tournament in a long, long time. 

That is not breaking news, of course. From Mike Davis to Kelvin Sampson to Dan Dakich's cup of coffee, and from Tom Crean to Archie Miller, the shadow of Bob Knight still hovers over this program. 

The longing for the olden days never goes away, and probably never will. This gawd-awful 2020 might go down as the worst year ever, but that February day in Assembly Hall, when Knight returned to Assembly Hall and thousands of grown men and women cried through the whole thing, will go down as one of the most enjoyable days in Indiana basketball history. 

Bob Knight did that. 

At long last, he stopped holding all of his grudges and came back to Assembly Hall for one last virtual hug with his loving fan base. It was a great, great day.

He's going to be 80 years old next month, and he's living back in Bloomington again. He's back around his friends, and his loyal fans see him around town now and then, at least pre-COVID. That's a very good thing.

It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since he was fired. Time passes, quicker for some, slower for others.

Mistakes were made, to be sure, during all that played out 20 years ago. Bob Knight was never the same afterward, even during his coaching stint at Texas Tech. And that's a shame.

Indiana basketball hasn't been the same, either. 

And that's a shame, too.

Related stories on Bob Knight

  • RETURN A LOVEFEST (Feb. 8): Bob Knight's return to Assembly Hall was a lovefest 20 years in the making. CLICK HERE 
  • 1980 TEAM'S FORGOTTEN GREATNESS: Mike Woodson, Isiah Thomas, Ray Tolbert and others made Indiana's 1980 Big Ten champions one of Bob Knight's all-time favorite teams. CLICK HERE
  • MISSING BANNERS: Bob Knight's teams in 1975, 1980, 1992 and 1993 all could have won championships, but came up a little short. Relive those glory years in the book "Missing Banners,'' written by Terry Hutchens and Tom Brew.  CLICK HERE