Knight did it his way, and Lubbock's happy

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Maybe Bob Knight didn't care. But 15,098 others at United Spirit Arena did.

So did a little thing called history.

And in the end, even the crusty old General -- with confetti falling upon him and "My Way" blaring on the sound system -- had to admit that this New Year's Day was special.

"I can't think of a better athletic situation in America," Knight said over the public address system after his Texas Tech Red Raiders beat New Mexico 70-68. "Where a president [Jon Whitmore], an athletic director [Gerald Myers] and now [chancellor] Kent [Hance], all three are great."

With a nationally televised audience tuned in to witness the crowning of a new college coaching king, the Lobos (11-4) nearly put the coronation on hold again. J.R. Giddens' 35-foot desperation 3-pointer at the final horn was just long, though, and Tech (11-4) held on after blowing a 20-point first-half lead.

The victory was the 880th in the 41-year career of the Red Raiders' coach -- the most in the history of men's Division I college basketball, eclipsing the mark of Dean Smith. It touched off a wild celebration.

For all but a few, that is.

"He's done a lot for college basketball, congratulations to him, but it's too bad it had to be against us," said New Mexico sophomore guard Chad Toppert, whose trio of second-half 3s helped the Lobos erase the big early deficit. "… It had to be over somebody, but we tried to make sure it wasn't us."

The UNLV Rebels made sure it wasn't them, beating Tech 74-66 in Lubbock last Thursday. A grand party was set for that night, but it had to be postponed until Monday.

The fans were ready again, and this time were able to carry the Red Raiders down the stretch as Knight's club was forced to come from behind in the final minutes.

"I'm here to see the record," said Tech fan Ann Martin. "The whole town has been looking forward to this all season -- especially since Thursday."

Many of Knight's cohorts who came to Lubbock for Thursday's planned commemoration had since departed, but a number of statements -- from the likes of Smith, Rick Barnes, Mike Krzyzewski and Dick Vitale -- were read. Vitale, the color analyst for ESPN's coverage of the game, was present and said the moment "was a great one to witness."

There were several presentations, including the unveiling of a banner that read: "Bob Knight NCAA men's all-time career victory leader - 880."

Knight spoke to the crowd a handful of times, initially after being introduced by Hance. The chancellor said how much he appreciated Knight, and the coach reciprocated.

"I appreciate you a lot more than the other guy," said Knight, referring to former chancellor David Smith, with whom Knight was involved in a much-publicized argument at a Lubbock grocery store.

While looking uncomfortable only briefly during the ceremony, the cantankerous coach gave accolades to many -- including his wife, Karen, and Lubbock itself.

"I have great respect for the community where Karen and I really enjoy living," said Knight, whose team at one point led 33-13. "…The first 15 minutes of the game was Karen's game plan … the rest was mine, unfortunately. I say, 'Thank you, Karen.' "

In a touch of irony, nearly two decades ago New Mexico men's basketball fans hoped Knight would help them make history instead of it being the other way around. Knight teased UNM by interviewing for its basketball coaching vacancy in 1988. He turned the offer down, however, to stay at Indiana and instead recommended his former assistant, Dave Bliss, who UNM then hired.

Knight, who also hired ex-UNM coach Norm Ellenberger as an assistant at Indiana, came to Tech in 2001 after being fired by the Hoosiers in 2000.

Knight, in his 41st year in coaching, has spent much of the season denying that he gave a hoot about the record. But by the more than half-hour postgame ceremony -- which included Knight getting choked up on a number of occasions -- it obviously meant something.

"I've always been kind of a Frank Sinatra fan, of his music," Knight said to the media following the ceremony. "And I've always thought, if there's ever an occasion when a song should be played on my behalf, I wanted it to be Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way.' Because I don't expect you people to have agreed with what I've done. And if I did, I would have asked your opinion. I have never asked the opinions of very many. I've simply tried to do what I think is best. The way I think you have to do it, to do what's best. I think I put myself on the limb at times -- to get this kid to be the best player or the best student.

"Regrets? Sure, just like the song, I have regrets. Not necessarily to have done things different -- I wish I could have done things better, at times. I wish I would have had a better way at times.

"Like he said, I did it my way. When I look back on it, I don't think my way was all that bad."

Mark Smith is a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal.