By now you’ve probably heard that Dan Shulman and Andy Katz will be calling the Indiana v. Georgia game Monday night from The Jay-Z-Prokhorov-Premiere League Center in Brooklyn. It’s always good to get a network’s A-Team (except when that team contained Billy Packer), so I understand why people have reacted with great interest and excitement toward the announcement.
Of course, it could have something to do with the fax that the third man in their broadcast team is the Robert Montgomery Knight Assembly Hall.
I don’t need to tell you that Knight’s relationship to Indiana Basketball over the last 12 years or so is a lot like John Lennon’s 1970’s relationship to the Beatles. He’s wanted nothing to do with it. Seems bitter about it. Will talk about it if asked, but doesn’t enjoy the conversation and if you bring it up, you might get a lecture about something completely unrelated. But when people talk to him or about him, it’s inevitable that it come up.
Knight has come back to the state of Indiana a number of times to give speeches, but has never come back to Bloomington. He’s been inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame and he didn’t return. He’s had former players inducted and hasn’t returned, though he did send Landon Turner a letter. He’s been on TV for years, but has managed to avoid even talking about IU except when absolutely necessary.
He was in the same building as the team once for a broadcast but he was only there for interstitial pieces during halftime or between games and then to call the other game.
So, this is kind of a big deal. It’s the first time Bob Knight will come into direct public contact with an Indiana basketball team since September, 2000.
This is uncharted territory for all of us, which makes it exciting and interesting. It also raises a lot of questions.
1. Is Knight going to talk to Crean either privately or publicly?
2. Is Knight going to talk to the team?
3. Is Knight going to address the state of the program since his dismissal?
4. Is Knight going to talk about his days at IU?
5. Will this open the door to Bob Knight returning to the fold?
6. Will Knight talk to Don Fischer?
7. Will Knight find a way to berate Chuck Marlowe?
8. What will Knight’s attitude be toward the team and program? Will he praise the play of the team? Will he be critical?
9. Will he be gracious to the fans?
10. Why now?
11. Will it play any part in Crean’s pre-game approach with the team?
12. What contact, if any, will Knight have with former players, like Chaeney or Reynolds?
And probably about a thousand that I’m not thinking of.
The short answer is that we’ll just have to wait to find out. The slightly longer answer is this.
Bob Knight has always been hard to predict, but there were a few things you could always set your watch by.
First, he is completely incapable of masking his emotions. If he is angry, you will know it. If he is happy, same thing.
Second, Knight would never have agreed to do this unless it was something he wanted to do. You can talk all you want about him being under contract to ESPN, but he’s the only guy on the entire family of networks who wears a sweater on TV. If you don’t think he could just tell them “no” and ESPN would agree or, much less likely, he would say “no” knowing it would cost him the job and doing it anyway, you’re mistaken.
Third, Knight LOVES to be the center of attention. He will find some way to bring the spotlight onto him before, during and after the game.
Fourth, he will give tremendous insight into the game. This is what he has always done. He likes to teach basketball. He did it on the court and he did it on TV, a white board was a frequent part of The Bob Knight Show.
And fifth, Knight is all about control. He will not wait passively for things to develop. He has very likely already taken charge of how this game is going to play out as it relates to his involvement and he will take direct steps, on air, to steer the narrative. Think back to Steve Alford’s first game in Assembly Hall as Iowa coach. Their relationship had been quite publicly strained and much was made prior to the game about how Knight would act toward Alford, handshake, hug, ignore… And Knight handled this by coming out through the bench, behind Alford and surprising him with the handshake. It neutralized the tension and insured that the first question after the game would be about how he approached Alford, why he did it that way, etc.
So, knowing those things, I expect this, at least on camera. Knight will joke and deflect as much as possible before the game, but in a way that seems strangely passive-aggressive, but which he’ll think is completely normal. Knight will set the narrative early, quite possibly with some gesture that is overt and public that will put the attention on him in the way he wants it, and at the same time be a bit of an Alpha-dog move to show that he is somehow still the pack leader when it comes to Indiana basketball.
In the end, Indiana is going to win easily, Georgia doesn’t seem to be any good at all, and Knight’s presence at the game is going to be the story. It will make for an interesting broadcast and it will kickstart the conversation about his return to Bloomington (it already has, let’s be honest), and it will delight and enrage all at the same time.
Will this end with him on the set of College Game Day in February? Maybe. That would be an appropriately spotlight grabbing move for Knight to make, but you could go broke making bets on what Bob Knight is or isn’t going to do. So, for now, let’s just enjoy whatever this turns into on Monday. It’s going to interesting.