Saturday, September 09, 2000

Knight in command this time




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        This was Bobby Knight at his best: Righteous and reasoned, passionate and prepared.

        The Indiana University basketball coach stood before the cameras Friday night at Assembly Hall and made his case without raising his voice. Thrust into a career-threatening dispute over allegations that he had grabbed and cursed a disrespectful student, Knight tempered his rage and revealed his talent.

        He drew diagrams on the blackboard. He reconstructed the scene in extraordinary detail, down to the faulty door that forced the two people into close proximity. He brought an eyewitness to corroborate his story. He couldn't have drawn up a play with any more precision.

        Knight's a terrific teacher when he's not heaving potted plants at 64-year-old secretaries. He might even be capable of learning.

        “I don't think my voice ever rose above a conversational tone,” Knight said. “I would have to be an absolute moron — an absolute moron — with the things that have been laid on me to grab a kid in public and curse a kid in public.”

Incident in question
        Knight's job is by no means secure this morning. His bosses have announced zero tolerance for any more tantrums, and the latest allegations would likely constitute a firing offense if proven.

        Yet Knight's full-court press Friday night was pretty persuasive, and the charges made by Mark Shaw are hearsay. Both sides agree that Shaw's stepson, Kent Harvey, was leaving Assembly Hall Thursday when he addressed Knight by his last name. Knight's reply, however, remains in dispute.

        Shaw, a former Bloomington radio personality and frequent Knight critic, says the coach grabbed Harvey's arm tightly enough to break the skin and cursed his perceived insolence both obscenely and profanely.

        Knight says his hands-on gesture was more gentle, that his language was clean, and that his rebuke of the 19-year-old student was motivated by the desire to instill respect for one's elders.

        “I said, "Son, my name is not Knight to you. It's Coach Knight or it's Mr. Knight. I don't call people by their last name, and neither should you,'” Knight said. “This was simply a matter of manners and civility.”

He said, he said
        That Knight presumes to lecture anyone on decorum is hypocrisy of a high order. He is Elmer Gantry in a red sweater — a preacher of standards from which he exempts himself.

        Bobby Knight at his worst is a temperamental vulgarian, a bully, an embarrassment. He has committed so many deplorable deeds that it is difficult to dismiss Shaw's allegations as the exaggerations of an enemy. Shaw's story is certainly consistent with Knight's character and bears investigation by neutral parties — if any exist in Indiana.

        That doesn't mean we'll ever get to the truth. Both sides claim multiple witnesses, and vested interests abound. Mike Davis, the assistant coach who called Shaw's claims “the biggest lie I've heard in my life,” is paid to do Knight's bidding. Conversely, Shaw “has probably been the most vitriolic critic I've had,” Knight said.

        If Harvey's story survives scrutiny, Shaw's motives won't matter. Indiana President Myles Brand would be forced to fire Knight for violating his strict probation.

        The odds of that happening, however, are remote. Unless, of course, there's videotape.

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

Continuing Bobby Knight coverage from Associated Press



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