Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Conspicuous absence

They honored one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time last night, as Indiana slipped past Wisconsin 59-58. Down there beneath those five NCAA title banners, the 1975-76 Hoosiers were recognized, this being the 40th anniversary of their legendary run to the championship. No team since has ever done it undefeated, and so several players showed up, waved to the crowd, got a sweet ovation.

Which undoubtedly would have been sweeter had the architect of that team shown up. But of course he didn't.

And that, of course, was as perfectly in character for Bob Knight as his genius for putting together basketball teams, because if he's indisputably one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time -- maybe the greatest -- he's also, indisputably, one of the greatest bearers of grudges. The man coached basketball like a boss, and he holds grudges like a boss.

Going on 16 years have passed since Knight was fired as Indiana's basketball coach, a circumstance he brought on himself but which neither he nor his legion of supporters will ever admit was anything but an undeserved palace coup. A great mythology has grown up around it, that somehow IU president Myles Brand had it in for Knight from the get-go, even though, until almost the last, they were in fact close. Still, the narrative is that he was backstabbed by the university he served so well, except on those famous occasions when he didn't.

So, Knight stays away. Everyone who had a hand in what happened in 2000 is either dead (Brand) or long gone, and Tom Crean has repeatedly reached out to him. Yet even on a night when it made all kinds of sense for him to show up -- if for no other reason than to honor the players from that team who took him to the pinnacle, and who still (mostly) love him unreservedly -- he was a no-show.

And, no, I don't know for sure if he was invited. But I can't imagine someone didn't at least try.

In any case, even if Quinn Buckner said Knight was there "in spirit," how much more special would it have been had he been there in the flesh? Reconciliation may not be his thing, but the time for it is long overdue. And the occasion for it was never going to be more apt.

Does anyone think for a second they wouldn't have lifted the roof of Assembly Hall with their applause had Knight walked out onto that floor? Does anyone think, for a second, that this wouldn't have been his moment to make peace, to embrace as well as be embraced?

But making peace with his perceived enemies is not in the man, apparently. Even when they're no longer his enemies, if in fact they ever were except in his own mind.

And that's sad. That's just ... sad.


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