The Salad Incident

Updated: February 3, 2004, 10:16 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

When the news first broke that Bob Knight had blown a valve in an upscale grocery store in Lubbock, Texas, the first question that naturally arose was, "Bob Knight in an upscale grocery store?''

But like most great Knight stories, the first reports always lead to more news and more questions.

He was getting a salad in the upscale grocery store? Oh, OK, although why would he not send someone to get it for him?

He was standing in line when someone complimented him on his behavior? Well, we know how sensitive Bob can be about the presumptions of others.

That person was David Smith, the chancellor of Texas Tech University, the place where he works? Uh-oh. We're getting into that familiar you-cannot-make-this-stuff-up territory.

Then he was going to be suspended for five days. What, for jumping ugly over the arugula?

Then it was going to be three days. Ahh, cooler heads prevailing.

Then it ended up being no days. Say, isn't this how he got into trouble at Indiana all those times?

Then he was to receive a reprimand, and a notation in his employee file. What, a crouton?

All this, over a take-out lunch. Now think of another person in sports to whom this could happen.

Eggs-actly. Only to Bob. Only by Bob.

But wait. There's more. Of course there is.

According to Pat Knight, Bob and Chancellor Smith have had their issues, mostly over what Pat Knight termed "petty'' issues. Like what? Bob lingering over the honey mustard bucket? Or Chancellor Smith complimenting Bob on something Bob didn't think he'd done wrong in the first place?

Honestly, we'd prefer to think that it was Option One.

But the most thought-provoking item of all, other than say the damage Bob's language could have done to the baby tomatoes, was Pat Knight's claim that Bob's first, knee-jerk reaction was to quit then and there, and that he had to be persuaded to "stay the rest of the season'' and then decide.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of a salad bar fight.

I mean, would Bob have done this if he was talking into the clown's mouth at Jack In The Box? Would he have quit if the exchange had occurred at Pak-N-Save? Or if he was chowing down on a proper steak and baked potato? After all, a man needs strength when Baylor's coming to town.

Maybe this was all just Bob seeing what was coming after such an unpleasant exchange. Leading SportsCenter. Being the subject of talking heads for days. Moving Janet Jackson off the sports page and back onto Page 3 where she and her wayward chest belong.

He knows how the game is played, and he knows that as a media hot-button of long standing, he was going to take a beating for snapping over the snow peas at a buttinsky school official with whom he has a lousy relationship to begin with.

But let's look at this from his point of view. It's lunch time. He's hungry. He's minding his own business. He wants to get his meal and get back to the office. And there's the chancellor making small talk, the kind of small talk Bob regards with the same fondness he has for a pond with no fish in it. Plus, it's small talk about a problem that Bob claims not to have.

But it was a compliment, you say. Well, compliment, schmompliment ... And say that five times fast with a mouthful of garbonzo beans and watch the hilarity ensue. It was one of those "Who asked you?'' moments, and Bob just happened to be standing over the bacon bits at the time.

So now he's a big deal, like he was when he cursed Fran Fraschilla for asking a question that contained the offensive words, "Some have said.'' And Bob is just a guy who likes silence with his roughage. No wonder he snapped.

It's the thinking about quitting part that gets us. I mean, he's not going to like that red Post-it note in his personnel file, but he's had more unpleasant exchanges in his day with other people. Like Ted Valentine, about 100 times. Like that LSU fan back in the '80s.

Like Fran Fraschilla.

He never thought about quitting then.

So it seems clear that he needs to make some changes in his routine.

Like having someone get his lunch for him. Or having someone accompany him on his lunch jaunts to fend off the badly conceived well wishes of school officials.

Maybe confining his salad eating to off hours would help. I mean, the vegan lifestyle isn't for everyone. Some folks need an occasional cheeseburger just to keep their internal balance in place.

If you happen to come upon the coach the next time you're feeling a little peckish, keep your comments brief, generic and to the point. "Nice game last night, coach.'' ... "Go get 'em next time, coach.'' ... "We're with ya, coach.''

And if or when he acknowledges you, move on. He doesn't want to know what you think about the Belgian endive. And he definitely doesn't want you to grade his conduct.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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