Even in Texas, Bobby’s no
Knight in shining armor

Nov 21, 2006 5:02 AM

And all this time you thought you had seen and heard the last of Bob Knight.

Then, last week, the true Knight resurfaced, this time slapping Michael Prince, one of his Texas Tech players, in a game against something called Gardner-Webb.

Everyone at Tech, where Knight now works after being bounced out of Indiana in one of sport’s great moments of courage by a university president, quickly rushed to Knight’s defense.

That included the kid who got slapped, his mother, Texas Tech’s director of athletics, local oil workers and gas station operators in Lubbock, and of course the noble Knight himself. The university president, Jon Whitmire, and incoming chancellor, Kent Hance, conveniently were unavailable for comment. Not all university presidents and chancellors have guts like Myles Brand, who as president of Indiana University six years ago declared a "zero-tolerance" policy on Knight, and when Knight crossed the line, grabbing a student by the arm on campus, he was fired.

As you know by now, in this latest incident Knight "flipped the boy’s chin up" so the kid could look him in the eye and hear that he was being too hard on himself. That’s why he had his head down when he came off the court, and Knight clipped him under the chin to raise it, so that like George Bush with Putin of Russia, he could look deep into his eyes and see his soul.

Another coach might have said, "Michael, look at me," and then delivered the message, but that is unprincely. When you want to teach a kid something, you slap him around a little, like training a dog. Let him know who’s boss.

Michael’s mother Suzette, watching the incident, who likes the idea of her son playing basketball for Texas Tech, also rushed to coach Knight’s defense. She said she didn’t think the incident should become an issue. Michael is 20, 6-feet 7 inches tall, 210 pounds, a little old and big to have to be slapped around to learn self confidence.

The loyal defenders of Holy Knight included Gerald Myers, Texas Tech’s athletic director, and James H. Smith, president of the school’s faculty senate. Both thought Knight did nothing wrong, and that what he did was neither physical abuse nor violence.

Of course not!

Not when Texas Tech brought him all the way from Indiana to far west Texas to build them a good basketball team. Oil guys are known as roughnecsks, and a little peck under the chin is good for discipline. It wasn’t as if Knight threw a chair on the court, which he has done in the past, or cursed officials, which he also has done, or grabbed Michael by the throat, which he did to a guard named Neil Reed nine years ago at Indiana.

In a moment of deep self reflection, Knight uncharacteristically admitted past mistakes.

"I’m sure there were some cases where I have been wrong," he said generously, "but this wasn’t one of them. I was trying to help the kid, and I think I did."

At that, I thought of Dean Smith, the great North Carolina coach whose record for career victories Knight is about to break, and to John Wooden, UCLA’s superb teacher who turned out multiple national champions and brilliant players during his tenure there.

I tried, but could not evoke, any memories of either pushing or shoving or slapping kids around. They coached by persuasion — in Wooden’s case gentle persuasion — and they got results.

An ESPN analyst said if it were anyone else but Knight, "we wouldn’t be talking about this." Yes we would, just as we talked about Woody Hayes losing his cool with a player at Ohio State and Latrell Sprewell choking coach P.J. Carlesimo when he was with Golden State.

Michael Prince said Bob Knight was the reason he went to Texas Tech. Let’s hope Knight isn’t the reason he leaves.