For Bob Knight, it's a night for jokes and praise in Hoosier State
HAMMOND, Ind. – Bob Knight was screaming at players, berating officials and hurling that chair across the court again.
It was all there on that introductory highlight video, prime fodder for a general roasting of "The General."
Back in Indiana a decade after his firing, the former Hoosiers coach was the honored guest this time at a roast to benefit Chicago's St. Joseph High School on Saturday.
For one night, no one was debating Indiana's decision to fire him 10 years ago. This was a night of unity involving one of the most polarizing figures in the state and the game, one dominated by laughter and praise, and Knight wasn't discussing his former employer.
Asked afterward about recent efforts by athletic director Fred Glass and others to reconnect, he had little to say.
"You want to talk about tonight, fine," he said.
A line of dignitaries from master of ceremonies Jay Bilas to George Raveling, Jerry Colangelo, Jud Heathcote, Digger Phelps and Isiah Thomas sure had fun at his expense.
For that matter, so did Knight.
He jumped onstage at a suburban Chicago casino and jokingly berated Bilas at the start, then got a standing ovation when he was formally introduced minutes later, with one fan screaming, "Welcome back to Indiana!"
Knight smiled. Others cheered.
"I've known Bob for 35 years, and if any of you need a friend, get a dog," Raveling advised.
Later, he turned serious and said, "If I had to count on my right hand five great, loving, loyal friends, Bob would be amongst those five."
Thomas, who starred at St. Joseph and Indiana before a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Pistons, said Knight, "Never cheated anyone. He gave his all to all to all of us."
Whether he's loved or loathed, one thing can't be debated: Indiana hasn't been the same since that public and bitter split with Knight.
Ten years after a 19-year-old student accused Knight of grabbing him by the arm, Knight and the university remain mostly estranged, far apart on paths that have taken them in opposite directions.
Knight landed at Texas Tech and went on to break Dean Smith's NCAA Division I record for victories and now has a broadcasting career.
Indiana is still trying to pick itself up.
The Hoosiers have gone through five athletic directors, four university presidents, four basketball coaches and one major NCAA recruiting scandal.
During Knight's 29 seasons, the Hoosiers went 661-240, won three national titles and they did it without a major NCAA violation. Knight set high standards, demanded discipline from them even though he often appeared to lose control, lashing out at referees, tossing a chair across the court, berating an NCAA tournament official, intimidating school employees and putting his hands on a player's neck at practice.
That resulted in a zero-tolerance policy from then-university president Myles Brand in May 2000, and less than four months later, student Kent Harvey yelled "Hey, Knight, what's up?" as he was buying football tickets.
The coach's time at Indiana, it turned out.
Harvey said Knight responded by grabbing and lecturing him, and although Knight said it didn't happen that way, he was fired on Sept. 10, 2000.
What followed was a strong backlash against Indiana and fall from which it is still trying to lift itself, one that includes player suspensions, academic problems and alleged drug use within the program. Indiana has missed the NCAA tournament four times while going 177-144 and suffered through three losing seasons in a decade for the first time since the end of World War II. Coach Tom Crean is facing a steep climb as Indiana tries to re-establish in-state superiority over Purdue and NCAA runner-up Butler along with its national reputation, the one Knight built over decades.
Crean has brought back former players and Knight loyalists to celebrate the Hoosiers' history. Glass had a five-hour lunch meeting with Knight, and a new practice facility includes exhibits showcasing his accomplishments.
"There is no greater person who has made this state what it is than Bob Knight," said Phelps, the ESPN analyst and former Notre Dame coach.
It was a serious comment on a night where laughs dominated.
Knight spent most of it seated off to the side in a black chair chiming in, like when Colangelo brought up that infamous crosscourt heave.
"There's a lady across the floor that reminded me of my grandmother," he said. "She hollered at me prior to the free throw, and she said, 'Coach, if you're not going to use that chair, how about throwing it over to me? You see, that's the press for you."
Heathcote, who's recovering from a broken hip, said on video call from his home in Spokane, Wash.: "I thought he got pretty good distance" on that throw.
He said most people don't like Knight when they meet him. "But after they get to know him, they hate him," Heathcote said.