NCAA Courtside Memories, No. 2: The Night Bob Knight Went Swinging In The Rain
My second-favorite NCAA tournament moment involves an arena worker and a faux-military brass commander. To be more precise, an elevator operator and General Robert Montgomery Knight.
Honestly, this would be No.1 on my list if not for the fact this series is titled "courtside" memories and the story you are about to read actually took place outside, for the most part.
The year was 1997 and the sub-regional site was Winston-Salem, N.C.
The first-round matchup featured Colorado vs. Indiana Coach Bob Knight's Hoosiers.
It was dark and stormy night in rain-soaked North Carolina.
Knight's team was thoroughly eliminated, 80-62, by Colorado's Buffs. It was the third straight tournament Indiana had been eliminated in the first round. Though, this bitter defeat made more sense as history gathered some distance on it.
Knight that night could have wondered how his team could have been picked apart by an opposing guard who scored 24 points in 32 minutes.
It makes more sense now knowing the guard was Chauncey Billups.
Knight has never tolerated defeat well and this night was no different at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, although I don't recall him castigating a helpless NCAA volunteer at the post-game press conference.
Knight was subdued and contrite, noting "when you're soundly beaten there's not an awful lot you can say about that."
And that should have been the end of it.
I filed my story and made my way out of the arena via a basement elevator.
"He's crazy," the elevator guy said.
"Who's crazy?" I said.
It was Knight, who had failed to jump on the bus for the two-and-a-half mile trip back to the team hotel.
Knight had decided to walk back, in the pouring rain.
I got in my rental car and headed on the only logical route Knight could have taken. And there he was. Through the splashed rain dancing off my wiper blades, I saw a man walking straight down the middle of the highway. He was wearing a coat and houndstooth cap pulled tightly over his head.
I made a sweep past Knight and then made a U-turn to get a straight-on look at the man. I devilishly drove straight at Knight thinking he might move to one side or another. He didn't. His gait was steady and his eyes were fixed.
I passed Knight again and made my way toward my hotel. I noticed another car doing surveillance on Bob and figured it was an Indiana official making sure one of college basketball's greatest coaches did not become Carolina road kill.
For me it was right place, right time.
The Knight story led my next day's story. I had the scoop cold because I was on west-coast deadline.
It got picked up by several outlets.
Some coaches are different than others and some things you can't make up.