Note: My story on Bob Knight from March 5, 2008.
We saw the best of Bob Knight Tuesday night in San Diego. We saw why his players and those who know him are so loyal to him despite his many controversies.
You won't see a more or quick-witted and sarcastic man than Knight, if you’re fortunate to be in his presence other than a moment of controversy. He flirts with charming you to forget his many controversies. The Hall of Champions (my day job) invited Knight to introduce basketball giant Pete Newell, general manager of the San Diego Rockets and a San Diego resident for four decades.
Knight choked up at the end of his introduction of Newell, a basketball giant Knight considers a second father.
It’s funny how events can dovetail together into a night like Tuesday. It started with my phone calls to Texas Tech to see if Knight would make a special video for Newell’s induction.
But once Knight made his surprise decision to step down as coach, he talked with Earl Shultz, who played for Newell on Cal's 1959 NCAA title team. Shultz is a a long-time doctor in San Diego and horse race owner. Shultz, who watches over the 92-year-old Newell, told Knight how much Newell would enjoy having him at the dinner, Knight began rearranging his schedule so he could attend.
Knight sees and speaks to Newell frequently, but he surprised Newell for this when he walked through the door for lunch with him in the afternoon.
Knight’s introduction of Newell included a dig at Shultz and two other Cal teammates, Bill McClintock and Tandy Gillis. In 1959, Cal won the title over a Final Four field that included Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson and West Virginia's Jerry West.
Knight had them stand up to be recognized. The audience was set up for Knight to praise the old war horses. Instead, showing what a deft speaker he is with punch lines, Knight switched gears seamlessly.
“They talk about championship teams and that the players made the coach,” Knight said. “You look at these three guys, and the coach made them.”
There were laughs all around the ball room of 850 people at the Town and Country Hotel. Included in the audience to honor Newell were Jerry Colangelo and Ann Meyers.
Knight, who graciously posed for dozens upon dozens of photos throughout the night, also praised the honorees because he was so impressed with their speeches.
“I’d like to say from a coaching standpoint, a coach can win if he has the athletes,” he said. “But after the presentations I’ve heard tonight, you could tell that with just their hearts and minds, they’d be tremendous for any coach.”
He also got a laugh with an extemporaneous joke about Willie O’Ree, the Hall-of-Fame inductee as the Jackie Robinson of hockey. O’Ree spoke during his induction speech about losing 97 percent of the vision in his eye from a puck that hit him early in his career.
Knight started out somberly telling the man that broke the NHL’s color line he couldn’t have played for him. Then he delivered the punch line that he would have instead preferred to have had him as a referee at his games.
“You can see better than most of the referees I’ve had in my career,” Knight said.
By the time Knight finished speaking, he choked up. Newell had planned to speak too, but the old coach was too emotional from the night and seeing and hearing from those that came to be with him.
“Pete’s voice is weak now,” Shultz said, “but what could have said to top what Bobby said? Bobby came here on his own dime, but I know he recently spoke to some Coca-Cola executives for $40,000. After last night’s speech, I told him whatever Coca Cola paid him, he was underpaid.”
That’s the Knight his friends know, and San Diego got a glimpse of him on a special night for his second father, Pete Newell.
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”