My Two Cents: Knight's Return Opens the Floodgates for Everyone Else Now
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There was a time several years ago when a former Indiana basketball player who shall remain nameless was in Indianapolis on business. The next day, in February of 2013, No. 3-ranked Indiana was playing No. 1 Michigan in the biggest game in Assembly Hall in years.
This former Hoosier, who had played for Bob Knight at Indiana for several years back in the 1980s, really wanted to grab a couple of his clients and go to the game. Be the big-shot former player, show his big-time clients a good time.
But he didn't. He couldn't. He wouldn't
"I wanted to go in a major way, but I wouldn't have even known who to call back then, I was so out of touch with Indiana after they fired Coach,'' this player said during an interview for another project several years ago. "So I call a couple of my teammates and told them I was going, and they told me not to. Definitely not to. They said they would never go back until Coach Knight said it was OK, and he's never said it was OK.
"So I didn't go. Didn't bother even making the call. My clients were shocked when I told them that Coach Knight still came first, even after 10 or 15 years or so.''
Dozens of Knight's former players say the same thing. I've argued with many of them through the years, reminding them that it said "INDIANA'' on the front of their jerseys, not "KNIGHT.'' It never mattered. Coach Knight came first, and always would until being told otherwise.
Saturday changed all that. Now, finally, the doors are open. And there's no shame in coming back.
If Coach Knight can come back, everyone can come back now. And Coach can come back again to campus too, if and when he wants.
Things are easier for Knight now, too
I doubt that we'll see Knight at a men's basketball anytime soon, because it might just be too chaotic as a pop-in event. But his son, Patrick Knight, said Sunday that Bob and Karen Knight love living in Bloomington and they have enough friends to do things with around town all the time.
That'll mean you might see Knight at a women's game, or a baseball game in the spring or even a volleyball game some night, because he's got several former players with daughters on the team.
The players can come and go now to, with no hesitation. That's thawed a bit anyway, especially since the 2016 incident where the 1976 team was honored as the greatest college basketball ever and Knight didn't show up. All the players did, and then they started to come around more often after that, with or without Knight's blessing.
Pat Knight was a perfect example of that, too. Saturday was his first time in Assembly Hall in 20 years. He was never going to disrespect his dad.
That's why it was so important for Saturday to happen. This chapter is now closed. He's made his appearance, done his wave, and brought tears to thousands of eyes. Now life can go on.
A tough day to miss
Several Indiana players wanted to be at Saturday's event but couldn't for various reasons. Because everything happened on such short notice — and under an enormous cloak of secrecy on a need-to-know basis — some guys couldn't be there.
Steve Downing already had a cruise planned. Kent Benson, a friend says, is about to have surgery. Steve Alford had a game out in Nevada. Steve Risley, who was a member of that 1980 team, was in a hospital in California. He'd been there for a month dealing with a neuropathy issue, and flying cross-country was out of the question.
He missed the day with his guys.
"I would have loved to have been there to see my teammates and Coach, but there was no way I could have gotten on a plane,'' the 61-year-old Risley said by phone Monday. "But I am glad it happened, happy for Coach, happy for my teammates. It looked like a nice day from afar and it would have been nice to have seen Woody (Mike Woodson) and the guys.''
Risley said he hadn't seen Knight in "four or five years.'' He was invited to a player's only dinner with Knight when Risley was still living in Indianapolis.
"I considered it an honor just to be invited, because it was only 15 or 20 players or so. It wasn't everybody,'' Risley said. "I wasn't in the inner circle, but when I still lived there, I guess I was outer inner circle. It was always nice to see Coach.''
Risley said his good times with his coach far outweighed the bad times after his playing career, which included a national championship a year later. It was the opposite as a player, because Risley was one of Knight's whipping boys. "Not Butch Carter bad, or Ted Kitchen bad later, but he got after me a bunch.''
Once his playing days were over, time together with Knight always involved a lot of laughter.
"When he wanted to be fun, he was fun. When he wanted to be funny, he was funny. He had a great wit,'' Risley said. "There was one time we were all at a charity golf tournament and Coach comes up behind us in a cart with his posse of guys. We're like 200 yards out and Coach says, "Risley, I'll bet you a hundred dollars you hit it in the woods. Well, I hit this great shot, this nice little draw 5-wood, and it lands right on the green.
"So I tell coach, 'You can pay me that hundred after dinner.' You know what I got? The obligatory 'F--- You!'' I never saw that hundred.''
There were lots of stories like that told on Saturday to the guys were able to make it. It's a special day they'll never forget.
And now, life goes on. Even for the guys who couldn't be there.
"It sure does, and I think now the university can comfortably have guys back all the time now and not have to worry about any issues,'' Risley said. "Look, it said Indiana on my jersey, so that's why I've been back so many times. I love it there. That's my school.
"All this stuff went on far too long, and we can certainly blame Coach for a lot of that, for it lasting so long. But now it's all over. And that's a good thing. We all had the moment. But now the moment's over.''
Related items from Bob Knight's weekend at Indiana
- TOM BREW COLUMN: Knight's halftime gathering finally brings closure for many of his former players. CLICK HERE
- STORY: Bob Knight's return to Indiana's Assembly Hall on Saturday was a lovefest 20 years in the making. CLICK HERE
- PATRICK KNIGHT TALKS ABOUT HIS DAD: He loved returning to Assembly Hall with his father, Bob Knight, on Saturday. CLICK HERE
- THE FORGOTTEN GREAT TEAM: Indiana's 1980 team that was honored Saturday "was better than the 1981 team that won the national championship.'' CLICK HERE
- LIVE FROM ASSEMBLY HALL: Many of Indiana's most famous alums were back for Bob Knight's return on Saturday. CLICK HERE
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