By Jason Klein
I saw Bob Knight Cry.
I also saw him scream his way through an obscenity-laced tirade – but that’s what you’d expect from the legendarily intense Hall of Fame basketball coach.
Yes, I also got a rare look at the compassionate side of a man who once threw a chair across the court to express his anger.
I saw Bob Knight Cry.
I spent a week down in Lubbock, Texas with Coach Knight this month. I was stationed at Knight’s house with a team of Steiner Sports personnel rummaging through his massive collection of sports memorabilia, awards, and NCAA Championship rings. The unique items we discovered will be part of a Steiner Sports auction beginning October 8, 2012.
I was there to talk to the Coach about his collection and get a better understanding of where each item came from, and what it all meant to him. I was fortunate to go one-on-one with the Coach. The only person who interrupted my time with him was Frank Sinatra. You see, every time his cell phone rang, Old Blue Eyes came on to the tune of “I Did it My Way.”
Fitting for a man who told me “If I spent time worrying about what other’s thought, I’d get nothing done.”
It was an unbelievable opportunity for exclusive face time with one of the most renowned coaches in the history of basketball.
Over the course of the week, Coach Knight played the role I’m accustomed to seeing him play. He was gruff and crotchety, he was also focused and intense. He mocked us, pushed us to work hard, and even threatened me when I inadvertently called him “Bobby.”
I found out, the hard way, that Coach prefers “Bob.”
But then, during a private moment, I saw the man momentarily let his guard down. It was astonishing.
He was signing some pieces from his collection when he began to tell me another anecdote from his past – Coach has more stories than a library – but this one had a different feel to it. Unlike his other tales, there was no fury in his voice and no sarcasm in his delivery this time. Known for always having his guns blazing, this time, the resident of Lubbock, Texas held his fire.
I hung on every word.
He was recounting the story of Landon Turner, an Indiana University forward who played for Knight from 1978-1981. An All American in High School, Turner had his choice of playing at just about any top college basketball program in the country. He chose Indiana, and Coach Knight.
Knight told me how instrumental Turner was in his 1979 NIT Championship, and their 1981 National Title run. Earlier in 1981, Knight mentioned how he had spent some time in Knight’s “dog house,” (who hasn’t?) but won him over with extraordinary play down the stretch that resulted in the National Championship for Indiana.
Knight was beaming when he told me how proud he was of Turner, and how bright his future was going to be at the next level, the NBA. Then, Coach’s demeanor changed drastically. He started speaking quietly, and got misty-eyed, as he continued his story.
You see, just four months after winning the 1981 National Championship, Turner was paralyzed, from the chest down, after suffering through a nasty car accident. So much hard work and dedication, and in an instant, Turner’s career on the basketball court was over.
Knight was heart-broken. He was devastated by the sudden tragedy. He sat slouched in his chair, and looked up at the ceiling as he recounted the story. Though helpless, Knight told me, he felt he had to do something to honor his player.
“I called Red Auerbach and asked him to draft Landon anyway,” Knight told me. “I asked him to make Landon a Boston Celtic. I only asked once. I never mentioned it to him again.”
On June 29, 1982, Knight got his wish. With the final pick of the draft – pick number 21 in round 10, Auerbach selected Landon Turner out of Indiana University. It was a poignant gesture to commemorate the collegiate career Turner had in Bloomington.
I sat there speechless. I had never heard the story before, and to hear Coach Knight tell it with emotion and sincerity left me stunned.
Knight quickly shook it off and got back to autographing pieces of his collection. Moments later, he was back to his normal self, using colorful language to describe just about anything he could.
As an outsider, that’s about what you’d expect from the Coach who once requested that he be “buried upside down so his critics can kiss his ass.”
That’s what I expected when I first flew out to Lubbock to meet with him. I knew I’d get insider access to his home, I never imagined I’d get such a close look behind his emotional steel curtain as well.
I never thought I’d see Bob Knight cry.
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