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February 11, 2005

A Knight's Tale
By Dan Patrick

I recently chatted with Texas Tech head basketball coach Bobby Knight for about an hour. We talked a lot about baseball and a lot about his career in basketball. One of the reasons Knight and I got together is that he has recently released his autobiography, "Knight: My Story," written with his longtime friend, Bob Hammel.

Even if you don't like Bobby Knight, you should read his book. In it, he offers his side on the many off-court incidents that have become such a part of his on-court reputation and legend. We tend to look at this man in black and white, but there is a lot of gray there too. He offers his opinions on his infamous interview with Connie Chung during which he said, roughly, that if rape is inevitable to lie back and enjoy it. He admits that statement might have been an error in judgment.

Some of his conclusions and explanations strain credulity. So the book is not the complete redemption those in his court would hope for. Like the man, it's a mix of good and bad.

Knight also admits that he has had a problem over the years in knowing when to shut up, the Chung comment being a great example.

He addresses the Neil Reed choking incident and many of his other famous tangles with questionable behavior. His point of view is helpful, for what's it's worth, in this media-dominated, rush-to-judgment world we live in. We often don't want to hear the other side once we have made up our minds. In this book, we get the other side.

Not that Knight has been innocent of doing and saying many ignorant things. But getting his side helps you to see that a lot of those incidents were not quite as bad as they first appeared. After all, he only threw that chair once. But the incessant replays create the impression he does it twice a year.

He, to be sure, does these things, but we in the media certainly run with them. We give them their outsized stature because we think he's a great coach. And it continually surprises, or shocks, us that a man of his accomplishments can lose it so supremely with such regularity.

Knight stopped short of saying that the book represented some kind of catharsis; he just wanted his side of these stories out there. And the book is only coming out now because he had time to work on it with Hammel last year when he wasn't coaching.

Overall, the book is a peek inside a fascinating subject. Now, there is a lot of the usual thank yous and expressions of gratitude to his supporters. This stuff is tough to plow through and not very illuminating. So are the quotations from Vince Lombardi and Gen. George Patton, whose words seem to appear in the memoirs of every other coach.

But when he talks about his accomplishments and his many low moments, it's interesting. Still, some of his conclusions and explanations strain credulity. So the book is not the complete redemption those in his court would hope for. Like the man, it's a mix of good and bad.

One of the most illuminating anecdotes about Bobby Knight concerns Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Knight's former assistant at West Point. For many years, Coach K wanted to separate himself from Knight in the public perception. He wanted out from under Knight's considerable shadow and wanted distance from his outlandish antics, which in the past decade have outstripped his basketball achievements. But when Mike Krzyzewski was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he asked his former mentor to introduce him; at the capping of his career, he wanted Knight front and center.

That says it all about Bobby Knight. He's a complicated and controversial guy. But most of the people who know him see much more good than bad. And Knight's book gives you a better sense of why that is more than any videotape of a chair skidding across a gym floor ever could.

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