Knight has stayed consistent in four-decade career
Quick question: Can you give me the record of your surgeon?
In one of the more classic interview responses, Bob Knight offered up that query in reply to a question about what surpassing Dean Smith this season for the all-time Division I wins record would mean to him.
Love him, hate him or simply enjoy him for who he is, Knight -- the Hall of Fame coach from Texas Tech who is 10 wins from tying Smith -- can always direct the conversation in a way you might not expect. He certainly did with this response, putting his career in perspective like no one else can.
"The most important records we should keep are doctors' records," Knight said during an hour-long sit-down with ESPN.com last month at Big 12 media day in Oklahoma City. "Like, this past month, Dr. Jones performed 19 operations, 11 lived, four died and four are hanging in there. I'm not sure my record or any other coach's record is all that important.
"Only until the last year or so did I know how many games coaches had won or I had won," Knight said. "It really doesn't mean a lot to me."
Knight continued in classic form.
"I had a friend who was approaching 90 [years old], and I said, 'You have lived a great life and it doesn't seem like anyone has disliked you.' He laughed and said, 'There have been a lot of people who disliked me. I just outlived the sons of bitches.' It's like that in coaching. If you've coached a long time and you have had good players and been a decent coach, you're going to win a lot of games. There is nothing extraordinary about that."
Knight views remarkable personal achievements as the ones that cause you to marvel, like Roger Bannister's four-minute mile.
"There isn't a lot of talent in coaching," Knight said. "I don't have to be quick or strong or shoot well. I don't have to be a good passer. I don't have to be a lot of things that winning is dependent upon. I don't want to ignore the importance of coaching, but the won-loss record [isn't an indication of ability]. I've known good coaches that didn't have particularly good records."
Knight is underselling himself, but he's not unaware of his impact. He hopes he's been able to affect his players' lives more than anything. One of the more interesting things Knight said was that he wanted his players, whether they are doctors, attorneys or in business, to have a competitive advantage because of what he put them through as players.
His memory about coaching players and specific games and plays is impeccable. He can recite the exact plays from his first Army team in 1965 (his favorite team, by the way). He loves the quick thinking in basketball, but he wouldn't have wanted to coach in the pros because you don't have the same satisfaction of seeing what happens to the players when they mature.
"It's a reward you get in college coaching," Knight said. "I'm not sure you do [beyond college]."
If there was one hidden gem Knight shared with ESPN.com, it is the vision he had for the undefeated 1975-76 Indiana team -- the last Division I team to run the table. He told his players the day before the season started that they had two goals, and the first one wasn't to win the NCAA title. The first goal was not to lose. He said they were good enough to go through undefeated.
Did he ever tell that to another team?
"No, I never felt that I had a team capable of doing that," Knight said. "I've always talked to teams about how good they can be."
Knight has been a lightning rod throughout his career, but he respects the game of basketball and the teachers in the past 50 years more than anyone else. That's what comes across when you spend time with him. You can pick apart the way he has delivered his message -- it's fair game -- but at this stage of his life, Knight, now 65, is clearly at a good time for reflection. He has always been a student of the game, and one of the top teachers, as well. And, more than anything, he has been consistent. That's what you learn above all when you talk to him.
"I've tried to adjust as little as possible," Knight said of the way he delivers his message, comparing the '60s at Army to today at Texas Tech.
Recently, he surprised his wife, Karen, by cleaning out boxes of old photos, programs and memorabilia in his house, sending them to former players and friends. He said he's not being reflective, rather just cleaning up, but it's hard not to see it as the former. He is definitely at peace with his career as he approaches a milestone that is probably as highly regarded as that in any coaching profession. The numbers might not mean as much as the life and death tolls of a doctor, but it certainly is a log of some tremendous work.
Regardless whether you love him, hate him or are not sure how to take him, Knight's taking over the all-time win record is a celebration of a career that has captivated us all for years.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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