Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bob Knight embraced all the proper things in college basketball: discipline, dedication, loyalty, smarts and toughness.

His teams always had a high graduation rate, and there never was a whiff of rule-breaking associated with his programs.

And yet, instead of being serenaded to a chorus of hallelujahs as he exits Texas Tech in midseason, Knight is being reminded yet anew of his legendary imperfections and combustible nature.

Knight never was as disciplined as he demanded his players to be, which was the enigmatic dimension of his larger-than-life personality.

His ideals were impeccable. He just could not live up to all of them. It just was not in him. Even his advancing years failed to mellow him. To the end, he was as profane and combative as ever.

It was to his everlasting disservice that he could not take warmly to those he judged to have inferior intellect than his, which included most of the scribblers who chronicled his exploits and misconduct.

They never could see the game the way he could. They never could grasp the subtleties of the game that would lend substance to their thin analysis. They could second-guess, their practice of hindsight being flawless. They could question and criticize while never bothering to break down one game film.

That reality aroused the ire in Knight. He never respected the scribblers in his midst, and yet you had the feeling he never missed one word they ever wrote about him. It was merely another one of his many contradictions.

It is true he was an anachronism from the ‘50s and ‘60s. He was a bully, too, as so many coaches from that time were. It was a far different time from the politically correct, touchy-feely sentiment today.

A coach is not allowed to put his hands on a player, although coaches at all levels from that Vince Lombardi-inspired period routinely employed whatever intimidating tactics they thought might trigger the correct response in the untamed figure before them.

And let’s be honest: Male teens are often undisciplined, unruly and clueless, conditions that do not lead to stellar team play.

So Knight was ornery, arrogant and crass. But he was brilliant, too. His orations could leave a roomful of critics clinging to his every word. His insight into the human condition had depth and clarity.

He could have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He could have been nearly anything that required leadership, commitment and an unyielding faith in one’s rightness.

Even his firing from Indiana was not as clear-cut as his critics made it out to be. In another time, the student who initiated the fallout would have been seen as the mealy-mouthed loser that he was.

It was the student who said, “Hey, what’s up Knight?”

He did not address Knight as Mr. Knight or Coach Knight or in a respectful way that Knight merited as an adult. No, the student was seeking to provoke Knight, who at the time was on the zero-tolerance policy of the pencil-neck Myles Brand.

And so the poor, little student became the victim after Knight grabbed him by the arm and lectured him about being respectful to his elders. Knight was too kind. What the poor, little student deserved was a beat-down that left him bruised. Pain, as you know, is an incredibly instructive instrument.

Alas, our upper classes, including the media, have forgotten this elementary principle after a lifetime of sitting on their cholesterol-clogged rears and judging others from their mountaintop.

Too many are misguided. Worse, too many add another 1.2 misguided souls to the planet.

One of the misguided, a granola-reeking woman, was trying to interest me in her “revolution” the other night on M Street in Georgetown. In fact, she was holding a bumper sticker that read: “Stop b——ing. Start a revolution.”

A revolution? You mean one with guns and all, as all great revolutions are waged?

No, she said, let’s start a philosophical revolution.

What? That is not a revolution. That is a bunch of whiners sitting around pretending to be know-it-alls while taking bong hits.

Knight could lead a revolution. Or his personality type could lead one. And young men would line up behind him ready to take a bullet in his behalf.

That is a rare kind of devotion that Knight inspired in so many of his ex-players. To them, his genius trumped his demons.

Knight will take his demons to his grave. It is doubtful he ever will find contentment. There always will be something rustling inside him, troubling him, undermining him.

Knight has been compared to Gen. George Patton. The more apt comparison is to Marlon Brando’s Col. Walter Kurtz, who was smarter than all his superiors in “Apocalypse Now.”

Knight’s body of work never will be as celebrated as it might have been because of his infamous transgressions.

That is fair enough, though trite by now.

No portrayal of Knight is seemingly complete unless it notes the throwing of the chair onto the court and numerous other incidents.

But Knight was the best there ever was. That assessment could be argued, especially from the supporters of John Wooden. Unlike Wooden, though, Knight has no Sam Gilbert in his closet and often won with personnel that rated yawns from NBA evaluators.

It is not a coincidence that Mike Krzyzewski, the best college basketball coach of his generation, is a disciple of Knight.

Krzyzewski learned from the tormented master.

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