Every Big Ten Conference basketball game between NCAA national championship contenders is an experience, a happening, and a must-see event. The buzz begins the morning of the game, whether it's in Bloomington, Columbus or Ann Arbor. The intensity grows as the clock moves toward game time. By early evening, students, administration officials, coaches and players are ready to burst.
So when Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers took the court against Gene Keady's Purdue Boilermakers on February 23, 1985, electricity permeated throughout jam-packed Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. The NCAA Tournament was coming up, only a couple of weeks away. So every victory was vital, every performance had to be nearly flawless.
But on this chilly winter night in Indiana, the Hoosiers were flawed, not flawless.
The Boilermakers seize a quick lead that rapidly balloons to an 11-2 embarrassment for the Hoosiers on their own floor. It's only four minutes into the contest, and Knight, whose temper tantrums and vile antics have earned him as much attention as his many victories, was seething. You can sense something bad is going to transpire, especially when Knight flies off the bench when a foul is called on Hoosiers guard Steve Alford with 15:59 left in the half.
Fifty-eight seconds later, when a foul is called against Indiana's Marty Simmons, Knight vehemently protests again as he stalks the sidelines -- yelling, pointing, fuming. Then, as Purdue inbounds the ball, another foul is called on Indiana, this time on Daryl Thomas. Knight goes absolutely ballistic, cussing and shrieking at the officials. He is finally hit with a technical by referee Fred Jaspers. Enraged over his team's lackadaisical start and the officials' calls, Knight loses it. He turns toward the Hoosiers' bench, fuming, wanting to take out his rage on someone, something, anything. Instinctively, he picks up a folding chair from the Hoosiers' bench, and just when you think he's going to slam it into the floor, he hurls it across the court, to the utter shock and disbelief of everyone watching.
The chair is heading right toward the wheelchair section of the arena, sliding, twisting and turning across the court, a site so outlandish and so unusual that it's like a mirage. Everyone in Assembly Hall, other than Knight, is incredulous. Knight's own players and staff have seen his uncontrollable rage before -- usually at closed practices. But this is an actual game, being played in front of thousands of people in the stands and many more on TV.
"I was shocked," Purdue's Steve Reid would say later. "I've never seen anything like this happen before."
Every eye in the arena, every eye watching on TV, stares in disbelief as the folding chair careens along the surface of the court. As people in wheelchairs scramble to get out of the way, the chair slows down and comes to a stop, only a few feet away.
People are horrified; there is astonishment, even fear, in the arena as Indiana Athletic Director Ralph Floyd rushes from his seat to the Hoosiers' bench. What will happen next? Will Knight throw another chair? Will he throw all of them? Will people get hurt? Will he attack an official? Is this the moment that his head explodes in front of the world?
Remember, this is the guy who in 1981 shoved an LSU fan into a garbage can in Philadelphia during the Final Four. This is the guy who in 1979 was charged, tried and convicted for hitting a Puerto Rican policeman before a practice at the Pan American Games.
The scene of rage and fear subsides, and after realizing what he had done, and the embarrassment it has caused him, the basketball program, the university, and the fans, Knight gains control of himself, his senses and his emotions, and is escorted off the court.
Sadly, this is not the last of Knight's antics. Far from it. He slams his fist into the scorer's table during a 1987 NCAA Tournament game vs. LSU and is fined $10,000 by the NCAA. In a 1988 national TV interview, Knight says, "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." He later claims the quote is taken out of context. In 1992, he gives a mock whipping to Calbert Cheaney, an African-American, during practice at the NCAA West Regional in Albuquerque. Knight later apologizes for the racial connotations to the incident. He head butts Sherron Wilkerson while screaming at him on the bench in 1994, later saying it was unintentional. Then, in 2000, a videotape is released showing Knight choking one of his former players, Neil Reed, in a '97 practice.
Ugly incidents all, yet the one that sticks out in the mind of millions, the one that is replayed on TV over and over again, is when Knight shockingly hurled the chair across the court.