I remember my dad telling me a quote from Coach Knight “When my time on earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want them to bury me upside down and my critics can kiss my ass!” This was the moment when I knew I would admire someone for the rest of my life who I may never get the change to meet.
One of the best attributes in sports is that teams, players and coaches are loved and hated for the exact same reasons. The more I have learned about Coach Knight, the more I respect him. Despite how the media had portrayed him, I understood his sense of humor.
Monday marked the 30th anniversary for that famous “chair toss” on a Saturday afternoon in Assembly Hall against Purdue. But no one ever talked about what really changed after that game.
When the Boilermakers took an 11-2 lead in front of a packed crowd with only four minutes into the game, Coach Knight saw red- literally. Hoosiers guard, Steve Alford, was called for a foul, then IU’ Daryl Thomas was called for another IU foul. Coach Knight was still yelling about a previous call when referee Fred Jaspers gave Coach Knight the technical.
That’s when he really lost it, or “tossed it”.
A freshman trombone player in the IU band, Charlie Miller was sitting courtside that day. “It was surreal,” says Miller, now an editor at The Post-Standard in Syracuse. “But his throwing the chair was the affirmation we were seeking. See, it was a bulls— call.” Mostly, there was cheering and vocal approval. Knight was The General and he was just standing up for his troops. I can say with relative certainty that I was among those applauding. (SI.com)
Honestly, my first reaction to seeing the chair scoot across the court was that Coach Knight was wearing a golf shirt without a sweater. It wasn’t until years later when I read KNIGHT My Story (one of the best books I have every read) that I understood in chapter eleven that this was the game where he was tired of wearing a dress shirt, tie and a sport coat. He wore a red-striped white golf shirt that game against Purdue and he’s worn a golf shirt and sweater ever since.
Coach Knight is one of the few men who can pull off the sweater. Even fewer coaches can have their signature red sweaters auctioned off at Steiner Sports. Behind those seams is a man who is a gift to the game of basketball. Rarely is Coach Knight credited for never having an NCAA recruiting violation, his dedication to keeping his players in the classroom, his admiration for high school coaches, or how his former players love and respect him.
It’s been over 15 years since Coach Knight was fired from Indiana and he has never set foot back on campus. I don’t blame him. While at IU Coach Knight won three National Championships, appeared in five Final Fours, won eleven Big Ten championships, one NIT championship, 1 Olympic gold medal and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991. He left his legacy at Indiana University that no single coach will probably ever come close to repeating at IU.
I just thank the sport gods that Coach Knight is still involved in the game of basketball at age 74. I could listen to him commentate all day, but still being able to see him in a sweater just warms my heart.