Knight Fall Bob Knight's controversial 29-year reign at Indiana came to an ironic end when he gave a student an unmannerly lesson in manners

September 17, 2000

It was a flip remark, tossed off for reasons unclear even after
the extraordinary events of last weekend had played out. Maybe he
meant to be a provocateur. Perhaps he was indulging in nothing
more than a moment of youthful bravado, trying to impress four
buddies who had gone with him to Assembly Hall on the Indiana
campus early last Thursday afternoon to buy football tickets. In
any case, when Kent Harvey, a twitchy 19-year-old freshman,
spotted the Hoosiers' basketball coach, he said, "Hey, what's up,
Knight?"

Harvey and his friends say Bob Knight grabbed Harvey by the arm,
dragged him aside and, according to one member of their party,
said, "Show me some f------ respect. I'm older than you." Knight
says he lightly touched Harvey on the arm, never used profanity
and was only trying to teach a lesson in "manners and civility"
that any adult might offer.

But Knight had long ago turned in his adult card. He once told
an arena full of people that his critics could "kiss my ass." He
threw a potted plant against a framed picture in the athletic
department, causing a secretary to be hit by flying glass. He
verbally and physically intimidated and harassed players,
colleagues, referees and strangers. After a university
investigation brought on by a videotape that surfaced last
spring of Knight's hand thrust to the jugular of former player
Neil Reed, Indiana president Myles Brand warned Knight that a
new "zero-tolerance policy" would subject him to immediate
dismissal if he were to slip up again. One stipulation of the
zero-tolerance guidelines held that "any verifiable,
inappropriate physical contact...with members of the university
community...will be cause for...immediate termination." So on
Sunday afternoon, in announcing that Knight had been fired,
Brand insisted that it really wasn't his decision to end
Knight's boisterous tenure in Bloomington after 29 years, but
Knight's.

"It was the ethical and moral thing to do, to give him one last
chance [in May]," Brand said. "The fact is that having given
Coach Knight one last opportunity, he failed to take advantage
of it." Indeed, during Sunday's press conference Brand sounded
at times like an apostle of some new math that requires an
accumulation of missteps to breach a threshold of zero
tolerance. Since he had last assembled the press in Indianapolis
on May 15, there had been "many instances," Brand said, in which
Knight had been "defiant and hostile" and otherwise demonstrated
that he had "no desire, contrary to what he personally promised
me, to live within the guidelines."

Knight, Brand said, had demonstrated continued "unwillingness to
work within the normal chain of command." Not once since pledging
to change had Knight spoken to athletic director Clarence
Doninger, whom he physically threatened after a game last Feb.
19, even though Doninger had sent word through intermediaries
that he wanted to start anew. Indiana had gone so far as to
recruit a retired vice president of the university, Ed Williams,
with whom Knight was friendly, to act as a go-between with
Doninger. "I was willing to meet," Doninger told SI. "[Knight]
was not willing."

Indiana couldn't have been more accommodating in how it imposed
the sanctions announced last spring, which included a three-game
suspension and a $30,000 fine. Instead of laying down the law,
the school allowed Knight to negotiate which games he would sit
out, and the two sides finally agreed on the final two games of
the regular season and the first game of the Big Ten tournament.
Yet not before Knight met the administration's deference with
enough disdain that Brand pronounced him "uncooperative."

Further, Brand said, Knight had made several public and private
statements that embarrassed the university. The president didn't
elaborate, but in a press release a week earlier Knight cited
"the nebulous guidelines of the zero-tolerance policy" as his
reason for refusing to teach a coaching course he had taught for
years.

The most serious incident occurred at the end of July. Knight and
the university administration had a range of business matters to
discuss--including a mess of Knight's own making: a lawsuit by
former Indiana assistant Ron Felling, who claims that while
firing him last December, Knight violently pushed him up against
a wall. Dorothy Frapwell, the university's general counsel, and
another attorney met in Knight's office to discuss this and other
matters. When the subject turned to his $30,000 fine, Knight,
according to Indiana spokesman Christopher Simpson, "became
enraged. He was profane. He was rude. And he was intimidating."

If Knight had any chance of surviving despite all these episodes,
that possibility disappeared last Friday when he blindsided the
administration by holding a press conference to offer his version
of the encounter with Harvey. At 10:30 p.m. Brand phoned Knight
at home and discovered that Knight had booked a fishing trip to
Canada for the following morning. Brand made it clear that this
wasn't the time to be leaving town. Knight went anyhow,
committing one last transgression that Brand described as "gross
insubordination."

Early on Sunday morning Brand phoned Knight and offered him a
choice: He could resign or he would be fired in accordance with
paragraph 9 of his contract. "Coach did say he did not believe he
did anything wrong," Brand said of their 10-minute conversation,
in which Knight declined to quit. "He did try to change my mind.
He talked of his success at IU and that he would try harder in
the future."

Brand was unmoved. In the end, after years of incidents that had
already been found to constitute "a pattern of inappropriate
behavior," it was a relatively innocuous episode--not, said Kirk
Haston, the Hoosiers' junior center, "a blip on the radar"--that
brought down Knight.

To hear Brand enumerate all the instances over the summer that
hadn't yet come to light raised a question: Would Knight still be
employed if Harvey hadn't gone public about his run-in with the
coach? Brand conceded he might. "If that were the only instance
that took place, we would not be here today," he said, "but in my
estimation, in a short period of time, we would have been."

Brand cut a very different figure from the man who seemed so
wishy-washy while announcing last spring that Knight would stay.
This time he often sounded like a disappointed parent who adopts
a tone of "this hurts me more than it will hurt you." But if
Brand seemed to be diminishing the importance of the Harvey
incident as he listed Knight's transgressions, he may have been
doing so to take the onus off a suddenly vulnerable student on
his campus. "This young man has been caught up in events well
beyond his own personal responsibility," Brand said.

Many Bloomingtonians were unwilling to spare Harvey the blame for
Knight's exit. Of all the undergraduates who might have crossed
Knight's path, Harvey turned out to have a uniquely troublesome
pedigree. He's a stepson of Mark Shaw, a Bloomington author,
lawyer and radio personality who had regularly criticized Knight
on a talk show until deciding to give up the program in July
because, he said, his stepsons--Kent Harvey is a triplet--were
about to enroll at Indiana.

Shaw says he and Harvey wanted only an apology from Knight, not
his head. But after Sunday's announcement, an estimated 4,000
students marched on Brand's campus residence, Bryan House. Though
much of the crowd was as festive as it was angry, alternating
chants of "We want beer!" with "F--- Kent Harvey!" the protesters
burned the president in effigy on his own lawn while police in
riot gear looked on. Meanwhile Harvey was receiving death
threats, and his home phone number and class schedule were posted
on a pro-Knight Web site. As of Sunday he was no longer on campus
and had been offered police protection. Harvey may eventually get
an Indiana education, but for the moment it isn't likely to
consist of much more than private tutorials with English
professor Murray Sperber--a Knight critic currently on leave
because of threats to his safety from Knight supporters--at
Indiana's Elba campus.

On Sunday evening Knight returned from Canada and met with his
players in an emotional session at Assembly Hall. They were still
in a state of shock, and several spoke of transferring. (On
Monday, junior guard Dane Fife announced that he would do so at
Knight's urging, but seemed to reconsider after the players had a
meeting with Doninger.) But as Harvey demonstrated, young men
sometimes say ill-considered things. It appeared that Indiana
could probably avoid mass defections if the school retained
assistants Mike Davis and John Treloar, which Doninger says he is
considering. A source close to the team says that Knight offered
to take all his assistants with him to another campus in 2001-02,
when he expects to be coaching a big-time college team again, and
Davis told a Birmingham radio station that Knight had offered to
pay his salary for the forthcoming season. Late Sunday night,
outside Assembly Hall, Knight used a bullhorn to thank a crowd of
students for their support and promised to hold a rally this week
to give his side of things. (Knight did not respond to SI's
request for an interview for this story.)

"This is a sad day," Doninger told SI on Sunday. "After Myles
made his decision in May and I reflected on it, I realized it was
Solomonic to give a guy who had done a lot of good things one
last chance. But the atmosphere hadn't changed, even after Myles
had gone out of his way--and been much maligned for it--to give Bob
another chance. I genuinely hoped it would work. Myles did too.
That's why he's so disappointed that it didn't."

Normally we applaud constancy of character. We're suspicious of
the protean man who sways with each situation. And in large part
Knight owed his success to an unbending nature. His doctrinaire
approach as a coach won him many games, even if the victories
came less regularly as the years wore on and the world around him
changed and he didn't. But Knight was unbending in every other
sphere of his life as well, from demanding that his players go to
class to acting any way he chose as long as he believed he was in
the right. Brand actually expected him to adopt qualities he has
never had--the very qualities that in a twist made last week's
drama appear to be lifted from the Greek canon. Knight had the
hubris to try to teach a freshman last week something he had
never learned himself.

Would that we all learn "manners and civility." Would that,
someday, Bob Knight learns them too.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ED REINKE/AP COVER FIRED THE DOWNFALL OF BOBBY KNIGHT COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARY ANN CARTER ADDRESSING THE TROOPS The fired Knight left his office on Sunday to thank the fans who had rallied to his cause. COLOR PHOTO: AP MARKED MAN With his accusation that Knight had grabbed him, freshman Harvey set in motion Brand's dismissal of a legend. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARY ANN CARTER [See caption above]

"This is a sad day," Doninger said. "I really hoped it would
work. Myles did too. That's why he's so disappointed now."

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