Success is feminine and like a woman: if you cringe before her, she will override you. So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling.
As Bobby Knight is the first to say, a considerable part of his difficulty in the world at large is the simple matter of appearance. "What do we call it?" he wonders. "Countenance. A lot of my problem is just too many people don't go beyond countenances."
That's astute—Bobby Knight is an astute man—but it's not so much that his appearance is unappealing. No, like so much of him, his looks arc merely at odds. Probably, for example, no matter how well you know Coach Knight, you have never been informed—much less noticed yourself—that he's dimpled. Well, he is, and invariably when anyone else has dimples, a great to-do is made about them. But, in Bobby's case, being dimpled just won't fly.
After all: DIMPLED COACH RAGES AGAIN. No. But then, symbolically, Knight doesn't possess dimples, plural, as one would expect. He has only the prize one, on his left side. Visualize him, standing in line, dressed like the New Year's Baby, when they were handing out dimples. He gets the one on his left side. "What the bleep is this?" says little Bobby drawing away.
"Wait, wait!" cries the Good Fairy or the Angel Gabriel or whoever's in charge of distributing dimples. But it's too late. Bobby has no time for this extraneous crap with dimples. He's already way down the line, taking extras on bile.
"Countenances," Knight goes on, woefully. "I just don't have a personality that connotes humor. It kills me. I get castigated for screaming at some ref. And the other coach? Oh, he's perfect, he's being deified, and I know he's one of the worst cheaters in the country. It's like I tell my players: Your biggest opponent isn't the other guy. It's human nature."
Knight happens to be a substance guy in a style world. Hey, he could look good in polyester and boots and one of those teardrop haircuts that anchormen and male stewardesses wear. Very good: he's 6'5", and dimpled (as we know) and handsome, and the gray hair and embryonic potbelly that have come to him as he crosses into his 41st winter are pleasant modifying effects.
In the early '60s, when Knight was a big-talking substitute on the famous Jerry Lucas teams at Ohio State, he was known as Dragon. Most people think it was in honor of his fire-snorting mien, with the bright and broken nose that wanders down his face and makes everything he says appear to have an exclamation mark. Only this was not so. He was called Dragon because when he came to Ohio State, he told everyone he was the leader of a motorcycle gang called the Dragons. This was pure fabrication, of course, but all the fresh-scrubbed crew cuts on the team lapped it up. It was easy. People have always been charmed by him; or conned; anyway, he gets in the last word.
It's never neat, of a piece. When Knight stands up, coaching, with his hands in his pockets, he looks like a street-corner guy. But with his tousled hair, the tie forever undone, there's also a childish aspect to his appearance.
Wear your tie, Bobby.
All right, Mom, I'll put it on, but I won't tie it tight.
The boy-coach who got his first college head-coaching job at 24 may be middle-aged now, but still, every day, in some way, adolescence must be conquered again. "Listen to me," Woody Hayes pleaded with him once. "Listen to me, Bobby, because I've made a lot of mistakes and you don't have to repeat mine."
The real issue isn't the countenance, anyway. The real issue is the rabbits. And Knight knows that. In the Indiana locker room before a game earlier this season, Knight was telling his players to concentrate on the important things. He said, "How many times I got to tell you? Don't fight the rabbits. Because, boys, if you fight the rabbits, the elephants are going to kill you." But the coach doesn't listen to himself. He's always chasing after the incidental; he's still a prodigy in search of proportion. "There are too many rabbits around," he says. "I know that. But it doesn't do me any good. Instead of fighting the elephants, I just keep going after the rabbits." And it's the rabbits that are doing him in, ruining such a good thing.
Pete Newell, the former Cal coach, a mentor: "There arc times Bobby comes so close to self-destructing." Edwin Cady, a Duke University professor, after the Indiana Athletics Committee he chaired recommended Knight's hiring in 1971: "He's in a race now between overcoming immaturity and disaster." And even the warmest, most benign observers of the man offer variations on these themes.
Others are much more critical—especially since the sad events of July 1979 at the Pan American Games in Puerto Rico when Knight, the U.S. basketball coach, was arrested for aggravated assault on a police officer (and subsequently convicted in absentia and sentenced to six months in prison). "Bobby's so intelligent, but he has tunnel vision," says another Midwestern coach. "None of that stuff in Puerto Rico had to happen. On the contrary, he could've come out of there a hero. But he's a bully, always having to put people down. Someday, I'm afraid, he's going to be a sad old man." Says an eastern coach: "He'll get away with the bullying and vulgarity only so long as he wins. But the shame is, he's so smart, and he's so faithful to his principles, so why can't he understand that other people have principles too?"
Such criticism doesn't necessarily affect Knight in the ways and to the extent that most people imagine. In a sense, he enjoys being misunderstood, so no one can get a fix on him. It's like the effect Indiana's good defense has on the coaches of its opponents. "The average coach wants his team to score points," Knight says. "It's his character, his machismo, whatever you want to call it, that's at stake. So if I make a coach concerned enough about my defense stopping his offense, then he'll forget about my offense."
Though Knight may not give a hoot whether people like him, it genuinely upsets him that anyone might think he's impulsive, much less berserk. "Hey, I'm not dumb, and too many people look at our operation as if we're all dumb here," he says. "Only people really involved here know what the hell we're doing. See, I don't think people understand what I can or can't do. They're not cognizant of my situation and what I know about myself. I always know what I'm doing."
Yet as intelligent as Knight is about most things, as searching as his mind is, he's also encumbered by a curious parochialism that too often brings him to grief. When all is said and done, his difficulties in Puerto Rico resulted mostly from his inability to concede that San Juan isn't just another Chicago, or that the Pan Am Games aren't another Mideast Regional—and it's their own fault that they're not.
Knight's mind is too good to be wasted on a mere game—and he probably recognizes that—but he's personally not comfortable away from the precisely circumscribed environment in which college basketball is played. Therein lies the great conflict in him.
Does anyone in this universe of shifting sands still have the control of a coach? No wonder it's difficult for a person like Knight, who tends toward prepossession anyway, to be confused about the limits of his dominion. Puerto Rico, women, writers, shoe salesmen, NCAA bigwigs...all of them are just more Rubicons to cross. He's in command; an awful lot of what you see is a good act. Says Harold Andreas, the high school coach who first hired Bobby as an assistant, "He can be as charming as anybody in the world, or he can be the biggest horse's ass in the world. But he makes that decision, and he does it in a split second." Everyone identifies Knight with bad language, but the fact is he can talk for hours, if he chooses to, using much less profanity than the average Joe. He doesn't have a foul mouth; he simply deploys bad language when it can be a weapon.
Knight is forever putting people back on their heels, testing them, making them uncomfortable in some way. Stop them from scoring points, and they won't be prepared to stop you. Although its fashionable to say Knight rules by intimidation, he actually rules more by derision. He abuses the people he comes into contact with, taking the license to treat them as he docs his players.
"O.K., it's true sometimes I intimidate a kid," Knight says. "Usually when I first get him. That sets up the best conditions for teaching. But that's only true with basketball players, not with anyone else. I don't think I'm overbearing with people, but look, that's an awfully hard thing for a man to judge of himself."
Most find him guilty. But, here, you judge. Here's five minutes of typical Bobby Knight. This isn't extreme Bobby Knight. This isn't Puerto Rico Bobby Knight. This is just some everyday stuff, the way he keeps an edge, even over people he likes.
It's practice time, and two of Knight's acquaintances are sitting at the scorer's table. One is a black man, Joby Wright, who starred on Knight's first Hoosier team in 1971-72. Six years after his athletic eligibility ran out, Wright returned to Indiana to get his degree; now he's going for a master's in counseling and guidance. All along, Knight helped Wright and encouraged him with his academics, as he has many of his players. In Knight's nine years, only one Hoosier among those who have played out their eligibility has failed sooner or later to get a degree.
The other person at the table is a white woman. Maryalyce Jeremiah, the Indiana women's basketball coach. Now it's an accepted fact of life—disputed, perhaps, only by Nancy Knight, Bobby's wife [they were divorced in the mid-1980s]—that Knight is a misogynist, but Jeremiah he at least abides. She's a coach after all.
Knight advances on Wright, and says, "Hey, Joby, do me a favor."
"I want you to get my car and go downtown." Wright nods, taken in. Knight slams the trap: "And I want you to go to a pet shop and buy me a collar and a leash to put on that dog out there." And he points to one of his players, a kid Wright has been working with.
O.K., it's a harmless enough dig, and Wright laughs, easily. But Knight won't quit: "Because if you don't start to shape him up, I'll have to get some white guys working on him. You guys don't show any leadership, you don't show any incentive since you started getting too much welfare."
Wright smiles again, though uneasily. Now, understand, Knight isn't antiblack. Just antitact. That's the point. One of his former black stars once recalled a halftime against Michigan when Knight singled out two of his white regulars as gutless and then went over, as they cowered, and slapped their cheeks, snarling, "Maybe this'll put some color in your faces." It isn't racial prejudice. Still, still....
Knight then turns and says, "Hey, Maryalyce."
Brightly: "Yes, Bobby."
"You know what a dab is?"
"No, what is it?"
"It's a dumb-assed broad," he says, smirking.
"I don't know any of those," she replies—a pretty quick comeback.
But he won't leave it alone. The edge, again. "Yeah, you know one more than you think you do."
And he moves on. The white woman shrugs. It's just Bobby. The black man shrugs. It's just Bobby. But why is it just Bobby? Why does he do this to himself? He's smart enough to know that, in this instance, he isn't hurting his two friends nearly so much as he hurts himself, cumulatively, by casting this kind of bread on the waters, day after day. Why? Why, Bobby, why?
What a setup he has. Forty years old, acknowledged to be at the top of his profession. Says the very coach who disparaged Knight for being a bully, "Any coach who says Bobby's not the best is just plain jealous." Knight has already won 317 games, and nobody, not even Adolph Rupp, achieved that by his age.
Someday Knight could even surpass Rupp's record 874 wins, a seemingly insurmountable total. Knight has won five Big Ten titles in nine seasons; he was twice national coach of the year; and when his team won the NCAA title, in 1976, he became the first man ever to both play on and coach an NCAA champion. He's the coach at one of America's great basketball schools, one that's also an academic institution of note. The state worships him; Hoosier politicians vie for his benediction. His contemporaries in coaching not only revere him for his professional gifts, but some of his esteemed predecessors—mythic men of basketball lore—see Knight as the very keeper of the game. The torch is in his hands.
He's also a clever man and delightful company when he chooses to be. Beyond all that he has an exemplary character, without any of the vices of the flesh that so often afflict men in his station and at his time of life. He's devoted to his family, Nancy and their two sons, Timothy, 16, and Patrick, 10. His supporters fall over themselves relating tales of his charitable good works, a light that Knight humbly hides under a basket. In this era of athletic corruption, Knight stands four-square for the values of higher education that so many coaches and boot-lickers in the NCAA only pay lip service to. His loyalty is as unquestioned as his integrity. He is the best and brightest...and the most honorable, too. He has it all, every bit of it. Just lying there on the table. He has only to lean down, pick it up and let the chip fall off. But he can't. For Knight to succeed at basketball—not only to win, you understand, but to succeed because "that's much harder," he says—all the world must be in the game. All the people arc players, for or against, to be scouted, tested, broken down, built back up if they matter. Life isn't lived; it's played. And the rabbits are everywhere.
Perhaps the most revealing statement that Knight makes about himself is this: "You know why Havlicek became such a great pro? Just because he wanted to beat Lucas, that's why." Yes, of course, Knight hasn't even mentioned himself, but that's the trick. Obviously, if only subconsciously, he's not really talking about John Havlicek superseding Lucas; he's talking about himself superseding Havlicek and Lucas both.
The best thing that ever happened to Knight was that after high school—he's still the greatest star ever to come out of Orrville, Ohio—he didn't amount to a hill of beans as a player. Knight the failed hero has not only served as the challenge for Knight the coach, but also Knight the disappointed hero is the model for the Everyplayer Knight coaches. That boy was limited, self-centered, frustrated, a pouter, then a bitcher, ultimately a backbiter against his coach, Fred Taylor, who once called Knight "the Brat from Orrville."
The one thing Knight could do was shoot, a strange low-trajectory shot that was deadly against zones when he had the time to get it off. To this day, no Knight team has ever set up in a zone defense. It's like Groucho Marx, who once said he didn't want to be part of any club that would have him as a member.
Although Knight only started two games in three years on the Buckeye varsity, he was a major figure on the team, something of a clubhouse lawyer and a practical joker (which he still is). Dragon and a roommate led the Buckeyes in hustling tickets, and he stunned his wide-eyed teammates with his brash high jinks. On a trip to New York he boldly swiped a couple of bottles of wine from Mama Leone's restaurant, and not only pilfered a few ties from a midtown shop, but with the contraband under his coat, he went over to a cop who entered the store at that moment and started chatting him up.
There is little Knight's players can put over on him because he did just about all of it himself. Taylor wasn't the only coach Knight challenged, either. In his senior year at Orrville he defied the school's new coach by refusing to leave a game for a substitute and was booted off the squad. Although subsequently reinstated, he found that season so unsatisfying that he gave up his baseball eligibility to barnstorm with an all-star basketball team in the spring. "I regret that more than anything I've ever done," he says, because he could hit a baseball with power. He probably would've been better at baseball than he was at basketball.
Knight was also a pretty fair football end, and as he should've been a baseball player, so, by temperament, he would have made a better football coach. Wilkinson, Bryant, Hayes, Schembechler, Paterno and Royal are all friends and/or models of his, and he has a tape of Lombard] exhortations, plus a Lombardi polemic hanging on his office wall. And, like football coaches, Knight devotes himself to studying film, back and forth, over and over, like some Buddhist monk with his prayer wheel.
In the dazzle of the tight arena, basketball coaches tend to be popinjays, ruling by force of personality, glint of teeth, while football coaches are distant, solid sorts, administrators, with scores of lieutenants and troops. Being a basketball coach doesn't seem to prepare you for anything else in life, but even football coaches who can't win get bumped upstairs to assistant athletic director (a football coach who wins becomes athletic director). "I've always thought there's a greater depth to football coaches," Knight says.
But that's subsidiary to the main point: Knight loves all coaches. He will ask people who knew Rupp well to tell him about the old man. What made the Baron tick? Why did he do this? How? He has spent many hours listening to Sparky Anderson. He calls in the old basketball masters and studies at their feet. In his office, the only photographs (apart from those of his teams) are of Pete Newell and Clair Bee. Even as a boy, he would go off on scouting trips with coaches. Bill Shunkwiler, his football coach at Orrville, remembers that after school, when other kids were hanging out, chasing, Bobby would come by Shunkwiler's house and the two of them would sit and have milk and cookies and talk coach talk. Knight still keeps in touch with many of his old coaches, still calls them "Mister," and there is, in Coach Knight, almost a tribal sense of heritage and tradition.
"I just love the game of basketball so," he says. "I don't need the 18,000 people screaming and all the peripheral things. To me, what's most enjoyable is the practice and preparation."
The ultimate contradiction is that Knight, of all people, profane as he is, seeks after purity. What troubles him is that the game must be muddied by outlanders and apostates—the press, for example. In fact, Knight has studied the subject, and he understands the press better than some writers who cover him understand basketball. He even numbers several writers as friends, and sometimes he will actually offer a grudging admiration beyond his famous institutional assessment: "All of us learn to write by the second grade, then most of us go on to other things." But his truest feelings were probably revealed one day recently when he blurted out, "How do they know what it's like if they've never played? How? Tell me: How can they know?"
At the base of everything, this is it: If you're not part of basketball, you can't really belong, you can only distort. He has taken over the microphone at Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers' home arena, and told his own fans to back off, to be good sports, even to stop using dirty words. Imagine that, Knight telling people to improve their language. "It showed no bleeping class," he snapped afterward.
He just always wanted to be Coach Knight, officially expressing this desire in an autobiography he wrote when he was a junior in high school. It was entitled It's Been a Great Life (So Far). Nancy Knight remembers nothing otherwise: "All Bobby ever wanted was to be a coach, in the Big Ten." Even now, when Knight deliberates on the rest of his life, he doesn't go much beyond his one love. "I hope," he says, "that when I retire I'll have enough assistants in head jobs so I can live anywhere I want and still have a place nearby where I can go over and help out." As much as there is such a thing, he's a natural-born coach.
III: OLDER PEOPLE
Knight's father—his square name was Carroll, but everyone called him Pat—was a railroad man from Oklahoma, who came to Orrville because it was a railroad town, a division point. The main Pennsy line passed through, and the city slickers from Cleveland and Akron had to journey down on a spur to little Orrville to catch the Broadway Limited. So, despite having only about 5,000 folks when Bobby was growing up, Orrville was not quite as closed and homogeneous as you would expect of a Midwest coloring-book place, set in a dell, with a water tower.
Knight was born there, one of the last of the Depression Babies, on Oct. 25, 1940, a couple of weeks before FDR won his third term over Wendell Willkie and the objections of the Orrville electorate. He was reared in the '50s. Actually, the '50s were not much different in attitudes and values from the two decades that preceded them, but what sets the '50s apart is that they came right before the upheaval of the '60s. But just as the '60s flowered, Knight went off to coach at West Point, where his '50s just kept on going, even becoming sort of a badge of separation.
The '50s are too often disparaged for being simple, everyone in lockstep. But more accurately, what the '50s offered, in spades, was definition. In analyzing pre-'60s coaches like the unrepentant Knight, observers tend to confuse definition with discipline. Knight most of all wants to know where people stand—and that they do stand for something. Here's an example of how rigidly lines were drawn when Knight was growing up.
Shunkwiler takes out a copy of the 1958 MemORRies, the high school yearbook when Knight was a senior, and peruses the photographs of the boys, skipping the ones with pompadours, stopping on the ones who, like Bobby, wore crew cuts: "Athlete...athlete...athlete..." he says. He comes to yet another boy with short hair. "Not an athlete." And hastily, "But a good kid." It was that easy then. More than one third of the 200 or so boys were involved in athletics. Many of these were also involved in girls, too, but only in their place. If a coach saw one of his players holding hands, he would bark out: "Hey, no skin-to-skin!"
The coach, you see, was a giant of a man in this well-defined culture. Shunkwiler recalls that if a coach was notified by a teacher that one of his players was causing a problem, the coach would take the boy aside and, presto, "that would be the end of the trouble." Jack Graham, another of Knight's Orrville basketball coaches, once kicked Bobby out of practice. Knight didn't head to the locker room, though; he waited patiently in the hallway so he could see Coach as soon as practice ended. "Bobby understood," Graham says. "I told him, 'There's only one man who can be the boss out there, and, Bobby, that's the coach.' "
Early this season Knight purposely overreacted one day so that he could boot his star, sophomore guard Isiah Thomas, out of practice. He needed to show the kid, and the whole team, that there can be no exceptions. Some things don't change. Coach Knight can throw his star out at Indiana University as sure as Coach Graham could at Orrville High. On the team, on the court, time is frozen; it's been a great life (so far).
What Knight didn't learn from his coaches came by example from his father, though theirs was an unusual relationship. The father and son weren't buddies, which has led some people to conclude that Knight's deep affection for older coaches is a manifestation of a perpetual search for a father figure. To some extent this analysis may be true, but the relationships in the Knight household were more complex than that analysis suggests.
Bobby was born six years into a marriage that had come late in life. Though he was an only child, he had a companion at home—his maternal grandmother, Sarah Henthorne. "A classy lady—the love of Bobby's life," says Pauline Boop, who was Knight's childhood next-door neighbor and remains his friend. No wonder he gets along so well with older people; he grew up in a house full of them.
Both of Knight's parents worked—Pat on the railroad, Hazel as an elementary school teacher—and although they were loving, they weren't enthusiastic about the thing their only son loved the most, basketball. But at least Knight always had an ally in his grandmother. She was the one who followed his basketball closely. No matter what the hour, when Bobby came home he would go and kiss her good night. "I think he was closer to his grandmother than he ever was to me or his father," says the widowed Hazel Knight, who still lives in the house on North Vine Street, across the field from the high school were Bobby starred for the Orrville Red Riders.
Knight came home for spring vacation of his sophomore year at Ohio State, right after the Buckeyes had won the national championship. One day he returned to the house in the afternoon, and his grandmother was sitting there in her favorite chair. She had gone shopping in the morning and was tired. It took a while before Bobby realized that she wasn't just napping, that she was dead. He remembers it very well: "She was just sitting there. Her legs were crossed at the ankles." Knight's grandmother had been sick all winter, and there are those in Orrville who say she willed herself to stay alive until the season was over and her beloved Bobby could come home from his basketball to see her. It was during the next two seasons he had all the trouble with Fred Taylor.
Knight's father died a decade later, when Bobby was 29. In those 29 years, Pat Knight owned only three automobiles. Most places, he walked. He rarely tipped; "Nobody tips me," he would say. The only thing he ever bought on time was the house on North Vine Street. And he hated to do that. He took out a 20-year mortgage and paid it oft" in 4½ years. He gave up golf and many other pleasures until he could square accounts. Now, you see, now we are talking about discipline. "My father was the most disciplined man I ever saw," Bobby Knight says. "Most people, they hear the word discipline, and right away they think about a whip and a chair. I have my own definition. And this took a long time. Discipline: doing what you have to do, and doing it as well as you possibly can, and doing it that way all the time."
Pat Knight was very hard-of-hearing, which limited his communications with his son. He would turn off his hearing aid every night and read the evening paper, front to back. "And he believed every word he read," Knight says emphatically, explaining why he becomes so distraught when the press fails to meet his expectations. Pat also introduced his son to hunting and fishing, and to this day that's Bobby's escape. There are no outsiders to louse it up; it's as pure, God willing, as basketball should be.
"People are always surprised when they hear about my fishing," he says. "Everybody thinks I'm so wound up I'm going to have to leave in five minutes. But I don't carry over that stuff you see on the court. There's nothing I enjoy more than winding down some river, floating along, watching for deer, counting the squirrels." A warm smile, a pause, and then: "And nobody knows what you've done that day except you and the guys involved."
This particular day, he had been away, hunting down in southern Indiana with some of the guys. Nancy had a meeting to attend in the evening, but she passed it up because Bobby was late getting back. She cooked a huge, scrumptious dinner, but apparently that's standard fare at the Knights'.
Whatever other ambiguities Knight has to deal with in these cloudy times, Nancy isn't one of them. "She's just a great coach's wife," he says. She knows her man, too, knows not to intrude on the game. When Indiana won the NCAA in Philadelphia in 1976, Knight and some old friends from basketball and Orrville went out to dinner afterward—the victory celebration, the culmination of his career. Neither Nancy nor any other woman was included.
Says Steve Green, one of Knight's better players, who graduated in 1975, "He feels women are just an obstacle that must be overcome. Players' girlfriends didn't really exist for him. Just didn't exist. If he heard me talking to someone about my wedding, he'd be yelling, "Don't do it! Don't do it!"
It is instructive that Knight's language seldom goes beyond the anal stage. In the course of a day, he describes an incredible number of things being done to the derriere: it's burned, chewed out, kicked, frosted, blistered, chipped at, etc. Plus, almost every time he loses his temper, there is invariably a literal bottom line, involving the suggestion that the posterior be used as a depot—for money, a whistle, the Time and Life Building, what have you. But, when addressing the fairer sex, Knight has a reputation for purposely expanding his anatomical vocabulary to include graphic references to the male genitalia. This curious proclivity has offended people of both sexes and, perhaps more than anything, has tarnished his personal reputation.
One of Knight's heroes is Harry S. Truman, which is why Give-'em-hell Harry is conspicuously honored by bric-a-brac in Knight's office. But this graphic assessment of another President, Lyndon Johnson, by columnist William S. White, is eerily applicable to Knight: "His short-comings were not the polite, pleasant little shortcomings, but the big ones—high temper, of course, too driving a personality, both of others and himself, too much of a perfectionist by far.... Curiously enough I think one of the reasons he didn't go down better...was that his faults were highly masculine faults and that our society is becoming increasingly less masculine; that there's a certain femininity about our society that he didn't fit into."
On the subject of Bobby and women, Nancy Knight demurs: "I certainly couldn't have been married more than 17 years to a man who hates women. But I can understand how Bobby feels about some of them. I believe a woman should try and stay in the home. I've never been anything but very happy and satisfied to spend my life raising a family."
Nancy is, really, the only woman who ever came from the outside into Knight's life. She isn't pretentious, and their sprawling house, hidden in the woods just outside of Bloomington, is warm and comfortable. But those who would deal glibly in harsh housewife stereotypes must be careful. Everyone who knows the Knights well has the same one secret: Nancy influences Bobby more than you ever would guess.
Like many coaches, she often speaks for her husband in the first person plural—"We got the job at West Point"—but in neither a proprietary nor insecure way. He has the court, she has the home. It's defined.
Nancy acknowledges that Bobby's disputes with the press may well be exacerbated by her overreaction to criticism of him. "I read about this ogre," she says, "and he's the gentlest, kindest person to his family. He does so much good everywhere. I just can't stand to see the man I love being torn apart."
It would also seem that Bobby is equally protective of Nancy. His seemingly exaggerated responses in two major controversies may be traced in part to the fact that Nancy was involved peripherally in each. His protracted altercation with this magazine centers on disputes he has had with senior writer Curry Kirkpatrick, who did a piece on the Hoosiers in 1975. But Nancy was also personally wounded by a throwaway line of Kirkpatrick's, just as she has been by a passing reference another SI writer, Barry McDermott, made in an earlier article. In trying to humorously mock Knight's martinetism, McDermott suggested that the Hoosier players had gone over to the coach's house for a holiday meal of bread and water. Nancy, who prides herself on being a gracious hostess and accomplished cook, took the crack literally. "I cried and cried," she says.
Then there were the 1979 Pan Am Games. Puerto Rico was, in many respects, an accident waiting to happen. Those who know Knight best say the episode traumatized him, and while he's a chatterbox, he talks compulsively on this subject. And he still won't give an inch. "There is no way I was going down there and turn the other cheek," he says. "If there was trouble, I was ready to give it right back. The first day we were there, they burned some American flags. There was tremendous resentment toward the United States, tremendous hostility. Listen, America means a lot tome. If the guy..." What guy?
"The Guy. If the Guy says tomorrow, hey, this country is in trouble and it needs you in this position or that one, then I give up coaching tomorrow and go."
So, even before the officious San Juan policeman threatened him—cursing him, poking at him—Knight was simmering. Then he became concerned for the safety of Nancy and his two sons. "It was terrifying," she says. "We had to change apartments. I couldn't sit in my seat at the games. I had to sit at the press table. I feared for my life and my children's lives."
However Knight behaved in Puerto Rico—"You have no respect for anybody. You treat us like dirt. You are an embarrassment to America, our country. You are an Ugly American," a Puerto Rican sports official snapped at him after the Pan Am basketball final—it must be understood that Knight perceived, correctly or not, that the things he values most in his life were being menaced—his family, his country and his team.