Thoughts on Bobby Knight


It occurred to me that I needed to get out my pencil and put down some of my thoughts, opinions and stories about the now-retired basketball coach from Texas Tech.

I am doing this very carefully because the last thing I want is for readers to think I am saying, "Hey, look at me, I know Bob Knight." On the contrary, I am 70 years old, and there have been three important men in my life: The first was my father, the second is Forrest Wood and the third is Coach.

So it is with all the respect in the world that I share these stories.

About the photos

Last week, our television production team went to Texas Tech to shoot some footage with basketball coach Bob Knight. We took along Bassmaster Elite anglers Boyd Duckett, Tim Horton and Gerald Swindle.

The goal was to have Knight give them a pep talk that could be taped and used during the Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 22-24. Some real fun stuff, you know, and we thought it would take about 20 or 30 minutes. Turned out that during one of the most crucial days of his career, he stopped everything and put two hours into our project.

On top of that, the three anglers thought it was going to be a bit of a spoof, but they came away talking about how they actually were inspired by the things he said.

There will be more on this later in our pre-Classic coverage.

It must have been 1980 when my secretary said, "Jerry, I have Bob Knight on the phone. Do you want to talk to him?"

Well, the name Bob Knight makes you wonder how many Bob Knights there are in this world. What if it were coach Bob Knight? Wouldn't that be something?

I didn't know it then, but when Coach calls you, there never is any small talk in the beginning; he comes right to the point. I picked up the phone, and a voice said, "I'm coach Bobby Knight, and I've been watching you on TV for years. Why haven't you ever invited me on one of your fishing trips?"

Maybe I responded quickly, but I'm thinking it was an eternity.

We made arrangements to fish for smallmouth bass in the Minnesota Boundary Waters and to meet outside of Minneapolis in a grocery store parking lot just off the highway.

Please, don't ask me how I came up with that location, but Coach had a speaking engagement the night before, and I was traveling with a camera crew in a motor home. So, I pulled into the parking lot at about 8 in the morning, with very few cars parked there at that hour.

The camera guys were saying, "Oh sure, Bob Knight is going to be here waiting on us."

Coach probably was saying, "Oh sure, McKinnis has driven all the way from Arkansas and is going to be right on time in this parking lot."

But there he was, leaning up against a light post, right out in the middle of nowhere, fly rods and luggage lying on the ground. Remember, up until this point, we had never met, but for some unknown reason, each of us trusted that the other would show up at 8 a.m. in that parking lot.

We talked baseball all the way to Ely, Minn., and in the past two or three sentences, I have used two words that have connected us for the past 28 years: trust and baseball.

At this point, I have to say Coach and I could literally write books about our fishing adventures, and, by the way, we have threatened to do that.

However, I just don't have the space to do so here. I won't even tell you about the greatest trip the two of us ever took, when we took Ted Williams salmon fishing in Russia -- and you should hear the whole story about a visit to Colorado to fly fish on a ranch owned by David Pratt, who also owns the St. Louis Cardinals.

That was the trip on which Pratt was giving us a tour of his working ranch and was so proud to show off the new barn he was building. Coach said, "We don't care about a damn barn; we need a left-handed reliever." I think the Cardinals picked up one shortly after that -- but let me move on to a couple of things you won't hear over the next few days in the media blitz about his retirement.

One is this basketball story. While he was coaching at Indiana University, I was sitting with Knight about 30 rows up in the auditorium during practice. We were the only ones in the stands, and the team had been scrimmaging full court for about 15 minutes.

Coach was reading USA Today and talking some fishing with me on the side. To my knowledge, he hadn't even glanced down at the court. All at once, he stood up and hollered, "Everyone stay where you're at!"

As you can imagine, 10 players and seven assistant coaches froze in their tracks. Not a word was said as Coach made his way down the steps and onto the floor. He then proceeded to break down every move, good or bad, that each player and coach had made during the past 15 minutes.

I was stunned. How did he know all those things? He didn't even appear to be watching. Later, an assistant coach told me that is just Coach. He has a way of looking down on the court from way above it and knowing exactly what is going on from every angle. It's spooky, but I don't even wonder about it anymore.

Here is my last coach Knight story, and forget all the rest -- but remember this one. As I tell it, I will use no names, no years and no locations.

I know a sports writer who loves trashing the coach. A writer whose words are seen by thousands of fans. Fans who actually think this man might know Bob Knight and be knowledgeable enough to know the game. He doesn't and he isn't.

I often wonder how many more media types are out there, trying so hard to become someone by badmouthing Coach, or badmouthing anyone, for that matter.
Now hold that thought.

Years ago, Knight had a player who was sure to get a shot at the NBA and probably become a zillionaire. However, during his senior year, this player had a car accident, leaving him completely paralyzed. What a tragedy.

The story is long and complicated, but Coach ended up taking care of this young man (financially) for years. I haven't asked, but he still might be doing this responsible thing. This player is wheelchair-bound for life, but he always has had his area where he is wheeled to watch the game.

Now think back to that sports writer. He doesn't have a clue about the last story I've just told, and believe me, there are hundreds more like it in which Coach has made a huge impact on someone's life and hasn't cared to take any credit. As Paul Harvey might say, "And now you know the rest of the story."

So retired or not, you are going to hear and see the Coach from time to time. Please remember, he's a bigger-than-life person, with a giant heart. Pray to God that your children get touched by a man just like him.

You know what? I'm taking it back. I do want to say, "Hey, look at me I know Bob Knight."