Amid controversy, the renowned Bob Knight upheld the spirit of basketball in a corner of the world for decades.
His tough, fundamental principles, inspired style, and attention to detail left a profound mark on the basketball culture in Southern Indiana and elsewhere. His fans stood by him with as much enthusiasm as his critics often chastised him.
At the peak of his success at Indiana University, only a few players were more recognizable or noteworthy in the sport. According to a post on the website bobknight.com, Knight passed away in Bloomington.
The school later confirmed Knight’s death and announced it before the IU Women’s Exhibition Game on Wednesday. He was 83.
Knight was famous for his extreme demeanor, contrasting an unyielding will to win. This brought him both fame and infamy. Each helped define him during his 42-year career as a college basketball head coach.
Originating from Orrville, Ohio, Knight, who honed his college-level skills within the state of Ohio, made a significant impact as a member of Fred Taylor’s triumphant 1960 national championship squad at Ohio State,
where he shared the court with future NBA Hall-of-Fame icons, John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas.
Knight will be most remembered for his sideline presence.
Knight briefly worked as an assistant coach at the high school level following his graduation from Ohio State before starting his journey to become the head coach of West Point in 1965.
In six seasons, Knight won 102 games at Army, including four 18-win seasons and only one year under .500. It was that success that inspired him to move further from the service academy.
In 1971, Knight was appointed as the head coach at Indiana, a high-profile big-ten school with only two national championships in its history, but had fallen off somewhat under Lou Watson. Knight didn’t hesitate to rejuvenate the Hoosiers, propelling them to the pinnacle of college basketball.
He led the squad to the Final Four in just his second season, and they won a well-earned national championship in their fifth.
In the 1975-76 season, his squad accomplished a flawless 32-0 record, etching an undefeated legacy in Division I men’s basketball. These teams were widely regarded as his best, or at least the ones that most epitomized Knight’s unyielding style.
Between 1974 and 1976, Indiana lost to Kentucky in the regional finals only once, with the 1974-75 team and its immediate successor suggesting that the previous team could be even better, even though the latter’s undefeated season ended and Knight won his first national championship.
But in 1975-76, a group of experienced players and a strong defensive balance returned. They fought all the way to the national finals before losing due to Bobby Wilkerson’s injury. Just as they had lost in May.
In 1995, Scott May shared with Sports Illustrated, “The coach didn’t jot down a single thing on the board, and for a brief period, he didn’t utter a word.” Then he added, ‘If you want to become champions, if you aspire to etch your names in history and accomplish something that might remain unmatched, you have a mere 20 minutes to demonstrate it.
‘ Those were his only words. As time passed, I came to realize that he had anxiously anticipated that particular moment for a span of two years.
Knight won two more national titles at Indiana, in 1981 with future NBA Hall-of-Fame point guard Isiah Thomas, and in 1987 when New Castle’s native Steve Alford set then an all-time IU scoring record.
Gilbert Cheaney later broke that record, and the Big Ten career scoring mark as well, among dozens of records under Knight’s name.
Among the top 25 all-time scorers at IU, 14 played some or all of their careers for Knight. Likewise, five among the Hoosiers’ top 10 rebounders achieved a similar feat. Ten out of the top 15 assist leaders in Indiana’s history fall in this category as well.
Overall, Knight secured 662 victories throughout his tenure at Indiana, establishing a substantial lead as the program’s most successful coach.
Within the Big Ten conference, among coaches with a minimum of 10 seasons, only Bo Ryan and Thad Matta exceeded Knight’s impressive winning percentage of .731, and neither of them matched his longevity in the league.
Knight’s 353 conference victories were a Big Ten record until 2022, and his 11 league titles tied him with former Purdue coach Ward “Piggy” Lambert for the most all-time.
Upon his retirement in 2008, Knight’s tally of 902 victories held the distinction of being an NCAA Division I men’s basketball record, eventually overtaken by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former player under Knight at Army who also briefly served as his coaching apprentice in Bloomington.
His successes were often accompanied by controversies. Knight was infamous for his temper, which he directed at referees, administrators, officials, and even his players. He faced allegations of assaulting a police officer in Puerto Rico during the 1979 Pan American Games while coaching the American team.
In a 1988 interview, his comments on sexual harassment stirred nationwide criticism.
However, Knight was always deeply connected to two particular incidents.
In 1985, during a home game against Purdue, he lost his temper to the extent that a technical foul led to him angrily throwing a chair onto the Assembly Hall court while Purdue guard Steve Reid was in the free-throw line, preparing to shoot. He tossed it.
In 1997, Knight was caught on video tape during practice putting his hand around the throat of one of his players, Neil Reed. The videotape was later published by CNN/SI.