Is Bobby Knight ever hurt by what's said about him in the media?
That question lodged itself in my brain about 15 years ago when I was hosting a radio talk show on a station in the small town where I still live. The show was called Hodgepodge, and mostly we talked about what had happened at a city council meeting the night before -- or let people call in with questions about social security benefits.
I longed to talk about the world beyond the reaches of home, though -- so I wrote Knight a letter. Back then he was still head coach of the men's basketball team at Indiana University. I thought the odds of getting a reply were approximately zero.
When someone from his office called -- with apologies for not responding sooner -- I could hardly believe it. Knight's assistant warned me I'd get five minutes, but Knight gave me 15 -- and gave me the impression he would've gone longer if I wanted. He even timed the interview so we could air it the day before the Minnesota Gophers played his Hoosiers.
I started our discussion the way I'd been trained to do as a journalist. I asked Knight's permission to tape the interview -- remember tape recorders? -- and he said, "Well, how are you going to play it on the radio if you don't have it on tape?"
I took that as permission. Then I took a deep breath, and I began.
We talked about the first time Knight picked up a basketball, on a court made out of gravel in an elementary school in his hometown. He told me coaching was getting harder as he got older because it was more difficult to tolerate mistakes. As to why his players excelled not only on the court but also graduated: "We make them go to class." What happens if they didn't? "A lot of things. None of which are good."
Knight told me parents don't seem to be inspiring a sense of responsibility and a desire to excel the way they used to do. He credited his own parents for his work ethic. His mother was a schoolteacher and encouraged him to spend a lot of time reading and learning on his own. His dad was a railroad man, and worked very hard his whole life. "He was the most honest person I think I've ever known," he said.
We talked about how Knight imagines his life winding down. When he takes his last breath, he said, he wants to have a fly rod in his hands and a trout on the end of it. He didn't imagine himself doing commentary.
I didn't ask Knight the kinds of questions most other reporters did. I wasn't interested in basketball so much as the man himself.
When the 15 minutes were up, I thanked Knight for his time. He reminded me he doesn't do this very often. "You and Bob Trumpy and Chris Collinsworth, and that's about it," he said. "So you're in very, very good company." I had no idea who those people were. But something told me something good had just happened.
I was so excited that night I couldn't sleep. I felt like the little kid in A Christmas Story who takes his brand-new BB gun to bed with him and dreams of getting off spectacular hip shots. I told Knight as much in a thank-you note I sent him, for which I received (bet you can't guess) a thank-you note back.
You can say whatever you want about Knight. In my case he's a reminder, as bestselling business author Harvey Mackay often suggests, not to say no for the other guy.
What is it you want? What, exactly, could it hurt to ask?
So. Is Bobby Knight ever hurt by what's said about him in the media?