ON THE ROAD TO INDIANA—Okay, about to be on the road. I’m not so crazy that I’d try to write while driving. I have enough trouble with it while sitting in a chair.
I always enjoy going back (home again) to Indiana. It brings back lots of fond memories. You see, regardless of what Bob Knight thought about ‘Season on the Brink,’—we have a civil, ‘hi, how’s it going,’ relationship these days for those who wonder—I made a lot of good friends while doing the book and still enjoy visiting there because most people I encounter could not be nicer. The reaction I have gotten through the years from most Indiana fans is, “gee, why was Coach Knight so upset, it isn’t as if it was a surprise to anyone that he uses profanity.”
You have to understand Knight—and I’m not claiming I do even though I was with him for 14 to 16 hours a day for most of six months—to figure out the answer to that question. I knew when I left Bloomington that Bob was going to find something not to like in the book. That’s the way he is. I never for a second expected him to call me when I sent him an advance copy and say, “Wow John, this is great, you really captured what it’s like to be inside the program.”
That’s just not who he is. On the night Indiana won the national championship in 1976, finishing the season undefeated (the last team to do that) Knight walked out of The Philadelphia Spectrum with a friend who was practically jumping up and down with excitement.
“You did it,” he said. “You won the national championship!”
This was Knight’s response: “Shoulda been two.”
He was still pouting because his 1975 team, which was probably better than the 1976 team had lost to Kentucky in the regional final after Scott May broke his arm and came back to play at far less than 100 percent.
All that said, when Royce Waltman, then an Indiana assistant called me and said, “Coach is angry because you left his profanity in the book,” my first reaction was, “Okay, now tell me what he’s really angry about.”
I honestly thought Royce was kidding or that Knight had said something like, “Do I really say f---- that often?”
Knight is great at denial. In fact, during the season I was there, he got into a big argument one night with a pal named Bob Murrey because he asked Bob to assess how he was doing at controlling his temper. When Murrey said he was doing okay, but not great, Knight got angry and insisted that Murrey was wrong that he was doing a GREAT job of controlling his temper.
Royce said he was completely serious that Knight thought I had agreed to leave his profanity out of the book. In fact, I vividly remember discussing the issue one night with Bob while we ate dinner at Chili’s, one of his favorite restaurants. He’d been especially uptight in practice that day and had called one player a word that women find especially offensive 14 times during one sequence. That’s an exact number. I counted when I listened to the tape.
I jokingly commented that night that the book might be the first sports book that had to be wrapped in brown paper with a warning for parents. Bob laughed and said something like, “Yeah I know, but you aren’t going to leave all my profanity in are you?”
My exact answer was this: “No Bob I’m not. I want the book to be shorter than War and Peace. But you understand that writing a book about you without the word f--- would be like writing a book about you without the word basketball.”
He said, “I understand that.”
But he didn’t understand nine months later. Looking back, I believe he honestly thought I had said I’d leave out his profanity. That’s another thing about Knight: as good as his memory is on some things (it isn’t nearly as good as he would have you believe it is) he often skews the past in his mind.
I remember early that season when Waltman and another assistant, Julio Salazar, had driven to South Bend to tape the local telecast of Notre Dame’s game on a Saturday afternoon—yup, in those days you had to dostuff like that—and Knight wanted it broken down (offense, defense, certain plays and players) that night. Waltman told Knight that Salazar was working on it but it would be the next morning before it was ready.
A few hours later (after Indiana had played that night) Knight demanded to know where the tape was that Waltman had promised he would have right after the game.
Knight THOUGHT Waltman had said he’d have it after the game because that’s what he wanted. There are lots of other examples that anyone who has spent time with Knight can recite for you.
But enough on Knight. As I’ve often said, I will always be grateful to him for giving me the access that allowed me to write ‘Season.’ The book changed my life and allowed me to pick and choose my book topics from that day forward.
Plus, I did make a lot of friends that year, including the players and the coaches and a lot of people I met at IU and around the state. I’m still friends with Bob’s son Pat (who was 15 that year and still jokingly refers to me as his, ‘former babysitter,’ since I picked him up at school quite a bit) and the school, the town and the whole state will always have a warm spot in my heart.
I have one memory that stays with me—among many—perhaps above all the others. After Indiana lost in the NCAA Tournament that year to Cleveland State in Syracuse I walked from the locker room to the interview room with Knight who was, to say the least, mad at the world. After he finished with the media, he headed straight to the bus having left orders that his players were to clear out of the locker room immediately to fly home.
I wasn’t going back to Bloomington that night because I had to stay to cover Navy that evening (David Robinson) for The Washington Post. I walked back to the locker room where I was accosted by a security guard who told me not only could I not go in the locker room I couldn’t be in the hallway. The guy saw my media credentials and started literally shoving me from the door.
As luck would have it, Brian Sloan, who was a redshirt that year but would go on to be very solid player, was coming out of the locker room at that moment. Seeing what was happening, he came over, put his hand on the guy’s shoulder and said, “leave him alone, he’s with us.”
The guard—stunned—backed off instantly. I shook hands with Brian, thanked him and went into the locker room to see everyone who was still there—I didn’t know if I’d see a lot of them when I got back to Bloomington since the season was over—and, in some cases, say goodbye.
I’ve never forgotten Brian Sloan for doing that. Even now, 24 years later, it puts a smile on my face. Just as returning to Indiana always puts a smile on my face.
Two quick notes: To those of you who wrote in to ‘correct,’ my Post column in which I said that, according to the NCAA, John Calipari has never coached in a Final Four game: I was making a point. Of course I know about U-Mass in ’96 and Memphis in ’08—I WAS THERE. But when your appearance is ‘vacated,’ by the NCAA it never happened as far as they are concerned…
And: There was a question yesterday from a poster and we’ve had quite a few e-mails about the publication of my next book: It will officially be published on May 12th and the title is: “Moment of Glory—The Year Unknowns Ruled The Majors.” It focuses on 2003 when among the major champions (and runners-up) only Jim Furyk (U.S. Open) had ever come close to contending in a major—and he had never won one. It is about how one’s life changes radically after achieving sudden fame or just missing that moment. I really enjoyed doing it because I found the guys involved had great stories to tell. I believe it can be pre-ordered at Amazon right now. Thanks to all those who asked.