ESPN The Magazine
 Wednesday, September 20
Out of the red
By Neil Reed
with Gene Wojciechowski

ESPN The Magazine

Bobby Knight
Despite their history, Neil Reed wasn't happy when Bobby Knight was fired.
In March of this year, Neil Reed dared to speak out. He told a story of pain and abuse. He described three terrifying seconds from a 1997 Indiana University basketball practice when an irate Bob Knight placed a hand around his neck. In the weeks that followed, Reed learned what it means to be a whistle-blower. His integrity was assaulted by students, teammates, coaches and the university's PR machine. He received no apologies when a videotape confirmed his words. It was another ugly lesson for the once-heralded guard who listened, worked hard, played through pain and averaged close to 10 points a game for the school of his dreams. "Going through all that at Indiana is only half the story," says Reed, who tells his part in the October 2 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

Believe it or not, I'm not happy that Indiana fired Coach Knight. I don't have any feelings about it, mostly because I've had to stand alone for so long. In a way I've been proven right, but that doesn't make my life any easier. It doesn't surprise me that he grabbed that kid's arm. Coach Knight is always going to be Coach Knight. But did I want to see him screw up? Did I want to see Indiana basketball struggle? No way. Like I've said, I never wanted to hurt anybody. I just didn't want to live in fear anymore. Because of what I did -- leaving the program after the 1996-97 season -- and because of what I said in a March TV broadcast -- that Coach Knight had grabbed me by the throat during a practice -- I can live with myself these days.

I didn't know much about the latest flare-up until I called my parents three days after the incident. My dad, who's an assistant coach at the University of New Orleans, asked if I had heard that Indiana might fire Coach Knight. Later that afternoon, when I was watching TV, they broke in with the news that Coach Knight was gone. My first thought: "This is going to be a mess."

By the end of the day, I had 31 new messages on my voice mail. ESPN, CNN, People magazine -- everybody in the world called. But I wasn't ready to talk. I'm not even sure this story is the right thing to do. All I know is that Coach Knight's firing doesn't give me closure. I knew he would eventually do something like this to himself, but I didn't want to see Indiana suffer. I don't like to see anyone suffer, and I guess that includes Coach Knight.

What you have to understand is that I grew up worshiping Indiana basketball. I can remember my dad saying the Celtics were on TV at 8, and we'd be there, sitting on the couch, waiting for tip-off. Same thing with Indiana. The Hoosiers on at 7? Hey, we're there. It was like an appointment.

I grew up in Louisiana, but my dad would go to Bloomington every year for Coach Knight's coaching clinics. One summer, when I was 10 or so, my dad took me to Assembly Hall. He went to the basketball offices to talk with a coach, and I snuck down to the court. The lights were off and it was pitch-black, but I didn't care. I dribbled the ball in the darkness and launched shots toward the hoop. All you could hear was swish or brick. I pretended I was playing full-court one-on-nobody. That's basketball, baby. Me against Larry Bird. Sometimes I'd imagine playing against Indiana guys. Keith Smart. Steve Alford. That's how powerful the pull of Indiana was. You'd see those championship banners swinging side to side and you couldn't help wanting to play there. That's why I took only one recruiting trip -- to Indiana. I wanted to play at Indiana ... for Coach Knight.

Nothing has felt real since I reached that goal. It's beyond anything I could have imagined. Those first few games, you'd try to look cool, but the whole time you're thinking, "I'm wearing an Indiana jersey." Looking back, I think the last time I truly had fun playing ball was during my freshman year. After that, the pressure and abuse were unbelievable. Coach Knight had these superhuman expectations. They were impossible to meet.

At the end of my junior year, all hell broke loose. We started the '96-97 season by winning the NIT, but ended it by losing to Colorado in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That's when Coach Knight called me and two other players into his office and told us we should transfer. One of those players started crying, telling Coach Knight what he wanted to hear. The other rocked back and forth in his chair, talking nonsense. It was ugly. Then it was my turn.

"Well, what do you think?" Coach Knight asked.

"I think Indiana isn't what it used to be," I said.

That was the last time we ever spoke.

To read the rest of Reed's story, get the October 2 issue of ESPN The Magazine.


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