KNIGHT: My Story, by Bob Knight with Bob Hammel
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 375 pages, $25.95
The Yiddish word chutzpah is often defined by an old joke: A guy
murders his mother and father and is brought before a horrified
judge, who demands to know what he has to say for himself. "Your
Honor," answers the man, "have pity on me, a poor orphan!" Now
imagine that after this man served a jail term he wrote a book
attacking that judge for punishing a poor orphan. That's the
kind of chutzpah Bob Knight has, and this is that sort of book.
Knight, of course, was canned as basketball coach at Indiana in
2000, after 618 wins and 10 times as many pyrotechnic temper
tantrums. The book is his opportunity to spit bile, as only he
can, on those he considers responsible for his firing. Which
would make an amusing read if one didn't have to wade through
heaps of dross to get to it. Much of the book is so thick with
long-winded expressions of gratitude, it's like reading a
hundred Oscar night speeches. ("I had just two secretaries in my
29 years [at Indiana]," Knight writes, "and both were great.")
These thank-yous are mixed with sleep-inducing reminiscences of
past seasons, which in turn are punctuated by the obligatory
motivational quotes from Vince Lombardi and George Patton.
But when Knight finally gets down to the business at
hand--shedding his enemies' blood--he's thoroughly entertaining.
His descriptions of Indiana's dithering, self-serving academic
administrators ("deceitful and duplicitous," he calls them) will
be familiar to anyone who has had to deal with university
bureaucrats. His assaults on sportswriters are similarly
delicious. "They're an amazing group," he writes. "You should
see some of the guys who call me fat."
Ultimately what makes Knight's worldview so interesting is his
almost total lack of self-awareness. There's enough denial in
that busy noggin of his to occupy a psychoanalytic conference.
Though he grudgingly admits (this is progress) that he has "a
temper problem that I have to work harder to corral," he hasn't
begun to admit the depth of his anger-management issues. Knight
mentions just one time when he approached the precipice of
introspection, before quickly drawing back. Shortly after the
publication of A Season on the Brink, John Feinstein's
best-seller on Indiana's 1985-86 season, Knight condescended to
read six pages and then "put it down, sick, and never read
another word." Why? Because, he claims, Feinstein promised not
to use the f word but broke that promise.
Now here's a pickle. Why does it sicken Knight to read a word he
so loves to use? ("I had to sit around for a f------ year with
an 8-10 record in this f------ league!" he once roared at his
team. "And I mean, you will not put me in that f------ position
again or you will goddam pay for it like you can't f------
believe!") Probably because there are aspects of himself that he
can't bear to think about. If that's true, he might want to add
another motivational slogan to his bulletin board, this one from
Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.