Hey, Hoddlers! Fitzie is currently in the UK on vacation for the next week and so Matty Flatt and I will be tag-teaming it during his absence. If you see a guy walking around England with a Harry Winks t-shirt, say hi to Fitzie for me.
I grew up in northern Indiana watching basketball with my father and my older brother. By basketball I mean Indiana University basketball and by that I mean Bob Knight. None of that Indiana Pacers garbage. Indiana University basketball is the other great sports fandom of my life, apart from Tottenham Hotspur. Knight, IU’s legendary, and infamous, college basketball coach, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 83. His passing has left me deeply conflicted, melancholy, and nostalgic.
Knight was a hell of a basketball coach, up there with the best ever. He played by the book — he never cheated, and he never tolerated bad behavior. His players graduated, and while not that many of them went to the NBA, that fact itself spoke to how he was able to get the most out of the talent at his disposal. He taught his kids to win and he was uncompromising with his methods... a bit like Ange Postecoglou.
But that’s really where the resemblance ends. Unlike Big Ange, Knight was an irascible, famously short-tempered, egotistical, megalomaniacal, misogynist bully. He screamed at refs. He threw chairs. He made off-color jokes meant to provoke, he was notoriously nasty to the media, and on several occasions it was alleged that he got physical with people, including his own players. He was fired for grabbing the arm of and giving a lecture to an Indiana freshman non-athlete who had the temerity to say “What’s up, Knight?” while under a zero-tolerance policy for his past behavior.
I was relatively late to sports fandom as a kid. My first real sports memory is of watching William “Refrigerator” Perry score a touchdown in Superbowl XX in 1985, but the other indelible early memory is watching Keith Smart drain The Shot for Indiana to beat Syracuse for the national title in 1987. I was 11. My dad and brother were huge Indiana fans already. That moment cemented it for me — I was a sports fan, and Indiana was my team.
Bob Knight was omnipresent in those memories. Indiana was my team, and Bob Knight was my coach. He WAS Indiana basketball up until my mid-20s. As a teen and young man, I didn’t have the experience and the wisdom to be sufficiently critical of his behavior. I backed him and dismissed the various allegations against him as they happened, mostly because I wanted the team to do well didn’t want to believe they were true.
Certainly during his life Knight did and said some absolutely abhorrent things. He has personal beliefs that I do not, and never have, shared. For me, that awareness came late. As Indiana distanced from Knight after his firing in 2000 I also distanced myself from him, and as an adult I have come to feel deeply ashamed about the way I uncritically supported a hugely flawed man for the sake of a sports team.
That same self-reflection almost certainly colored my response to Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte during their Tottenham tenures. They’re not the same as Bob Knight, but they are both similarly divisive and deeply flawed figures that were appointed because, primarily, they win. I suspect my late and visceral turning away from Knight had a lot to do with why I never fully embraced either of them while they were at Spurs.
But to be fair, Knight also gave me moments of sublime joy. National titles, Big Ten titles, wins over Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Michigan. Big games, big shots, incredible moments of sporting pleasure. I’ve watched players he’s coached fondly recall their time at Indiana and speak from the heart about how much Knight meant to them, the generosity and kindness he displayed towards those whom he coached and loved. The memorial pieces in the media also highlight this dichotomy.
A couple of years ago, Bob Knight returned to watch an Indiana basketball game for the first time since his firing. He did not look well. He was supported by a legion of former players, including current IU head coach Mike Woodson, as he tottered around half court, soaking in the genuine applause for the Hoosier faithful. It was, for all my feelings about him, a deeply touching moment and reminded me why he received such loyalty from IU fans, despite often not returning the same.
And now he’s passed, leaving me, and others like me, to think about not only Bob Knight’s life and legacy, but also mortality. I’m not a kid anymore, and as I careen through middle age it’s becoming clear to me that I’m a lot closer to having grandkids of my own than I am to my college years. I like to think I’m wiser than I was back then. I know I wouldn’t tolerate a Bob Knight coming to Indiana today, nor would I let him coach my own kids. And yet, I wouldn’t trade those early sports memories for anything. I’m still learning to live with the tension of that dichotomy. I suspect I’ll always struggle with it.
Song of the Day:
And now, the news.
Erik Ten Hag might be close to the sack at Manchester United. Shame.
If you haven’t read it yet, there’s a lovely piece in The Athletic about Tottenham’s recently departed scout Leonardo Gabbanini.
The father of Liverpool forward Luis Diaz has been kidnapped by rebels in Colombia, according to the BBC.
Everton are in talks with Tottenham over Dele Alli’s transfer agreement, with Dyche wanting to reintegrate him into the squad.