"Why are you writing about Bobby Knight again, he tried to kill you," my wife wondered as I prepared for the sixteenth sports radio talk show to call since my interview with the former Indiana coach appeared in the March 2001 Playboy.
"He didn't try to kill me," I responded. "I was on assignment."
"He attacked you."
"True. He was just being Bob Knight."
"You were pretty upset when you called me about it."
"I was just relieved I'd survived the car ride. I had to talk to someone, and at two in the morning, who else would listen to me?"
"Who told you to drive with him for 12 hours? That was pretty crazy."
"He invited me."
"And then he tried to throw you out of the car, not once but twice!"
"Threatened to throw me out of the car," I corrected.
I went to see Knight less than two months after the president of Indiana University fired him for violating the "zero-tolerance" policy they had imposed on him. Knight had become something of an embarrassment to the university over the years as his temper kept drawing attention to him and not the athletic programs. During the 29 years he served as coach of the men's basketball team he made national news for throwing a chair across the gym floor in-game, for firing a starter's pistol at a reporter, for slam dunking a drunken fan into a garbage can, for head-butting his own son, for holding up used toilet paper in the locker room to express his feelings about how his players were performing, for putting his hand around the neck of a player during practice.
That was the dark side. There was also a good Knight—the man who won the second most games in Division I basketball history, the man who made sure the majority of his players graduated, the man who raised millions of dollars for the university, the man who stood by his players years after they stopped playing.
But when the university could take no more of Darth Knight, they fired him. And suddenly, the man who was considered more powerful than the governor of Indiana was without a job, without a power base and without a reason to get up in the morning. It took a few weeks for this new reality to set in.
And that's when I arrived.
I flew to Indianapolis, rented a car and drove to Knight's home in the Bloomington suburbs. We spent three hours talking and eating before he invited me to go to Akron the next morning to see his son work a practice as an assistant coach at Akron University. He also invited his friend, Don Donoher, the former University of Dayton basketball coach and a scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Donoher was to meet us in Dayton. So the first three hours I was alone with Knight as he ignored the speed limit on the highway to Ohio (and talked his way out of a speeding ticket after being pulled over by an Indiana highway patrol officer who recognized him and treated him like an exiled king).
Once we got to the topic of the day—his firing—he couldn't contain himself. I asked about the incident that set it off—how a 19-year-old freshman named Kent Harvey addressed him by his last name and how Knight castigated the young man for not being more respectful.
It wasn't how one would think Knight's career at Indiana would end, but that's what happened. Knight blamed Harvey's stepfather, who he was convinced hated him, for putting Harvey up to it. When I brought the incident up, Knight went bonkers. He punched the steering column so hard I thought we had hit a deer. The steady stream of curses that spewed from his mouth was so ferociously awesome that I was left speechless. His rage was like the crack of a rifle—quick, immediate, forceful and terrifying. I had never seen anything like it. He missed the exit where Donoher was waiting and drove 30 miles up the highway before he calmed down enough to turn around.
And that was just the beginning.
He went nuts a second time on the ride back. This time he was complaining about how other coaches had done similar things as he had but that their actions weren't shown on TV over and over again. I said to him, "Why you, coach?" That's when he lost it again. He threw my tape recorder into the back seat and started cursing. Then he asked me for both my recorders. When I refused to give them up, he turned around on his knees, leaned over, grabbed me by my wrists and tried to wrestle away my bag with the tape recorders inside.
"Stop the car, Don!" he shouted. "He's getting out and I'm taking those tapes!"
But Donoher, who was now driving, didn't stop the car, and I wouldn't release my grip on my bag. Eventually, like an exhausted boxer, he slumped back into his seat and stewed. When we got to Dayton, Donoher left and I was stuck alone with Knight. We had three hours of driving ahead of us, and I wondered if I'd make it back with all my teeth in order.
Somehow I managed to calm him down. I asked him to shake my hand. I told him I wasn't out to get him. I was just there to give him a chance to respond to all the allegations against him. That's when he began to pour his heart out. In the end, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for him. After all, he had become a tragic figure.
But I also couldn't help but still feel scared of him. When we got back to my hotel, I tried to put up a front, to shake hands good-bye, to walk out without him noticing that my heart was pounding. I knew just one thing: I wanted to get out of Indiana before he came back to ask for those tapes.
Playboy: Let's get the form of address out of the way up front: Would you prefer we call you Coach or Mister, Bob or Bobby?
Knight: I thought a great title for my book would be: They Call Me a Lot of Things. From the time I started teaching, when I was 21, I've always signed my name Bob Knight. My college coach called me Bobby, still does. But I have never introduced myself to anybody in my adult life in any way other than, "I'm Bob Knight."
Playboy: Let's begin with the media, which have always been a problem for you. Do journalists include their personal beliefs and attitudes in the articles they write?
Knight: Yes. I also believe that when something negative comes out about you in the media, that's only one person's opinion. These guys sometimes believe they've been ordained from on high to give the general opinion of the populace, and that just isn't the case.
Playboy: Since you're in the public eye, isn't that the bargain with the devil you must deal with?
Knight: Why should it be? Why should people be unfair? I have as many good friends in the media as anybody in sports has. It's just that I probably have a hell of a lot more enemies than anybody else. The thing that bothers me the most about the media is simple accuracy. There are as many guys in coaching who do a lousy job as there are in the media. Those are two professions that are a lot alike. There aren't a hell of a lot of really good coaches or writers.
Playboy: You may not like the media, but don't you still have to talk to them, to at least try to get your side out?
Knight: Al McGuire talked to me I don't know how many times about dealing with the press: "You've got to be a con man." I tried that for a day or so, but it never really worked for me. My wife, Karen, is right about this. In my dealings with the press, I was like the guy who goes into the cathouse and the madam gets him prepared and looks at him and says, "Who are you going to satisfy with that?" And he looks back at her and says, "Me." That's kind of my sense of humor at times. I'd probably be better off without trying to satisfy me, with my sense of humor. There are things that I have said that are funny to me, but they weren't to somebody in the press. So that hasn't worked to my benefit.
Playboy: In the Sporting News, Mike DeCourcy wrote: "No one has done more to demean the art of sportswriting than Knight. He may take a perverse pride in having so greatly offended so many journalists."
Knight: I'm not sure sportswriting is an art. But that's fairly accurate. It doesn't say I'm a bad person, or that I'm a bully. You can't imagine the number of people in professional sports who have come up to me and said, "God, you treat those assholes like I'd like to treat them." And my question is, "Then why don't you?"
Playboy: Why don't they?
Knight: They're afraid.
Playboy: What's the difference between today's sportswriters and those of the past?
Knight: Writing was far more of an art in the sports world than it is now. Today you have a lot of sportswriters who don't like sports or the people in sports. I can look at a room full of sportswriters and wonder if any of them can explain to me how to attack a one-three-one trap. Or what to do with the ball against a three-two matchup zone. I'm sure there was far more written about Clemens throwing the bat than there was about his masterful performance.
Playboy: Should Roger Clemens have been fined $50,000 for throwing that bat near Mike Piazza in the World Series?
Knight: Absolutely not. The situation between Clemens and Piazza was about as out of proportion as anything could be. I admire Clemens for how tough and competitive and team-oriented he is. There isn't anything more a pitcher can do to fire himself up than breaking the other guy's bat, particularly when it's a really good hitter like Piazza. When that bat broke, I bet Clemens was at the zenith, at the apex of positive emotion. Clemens just sawed off the bat in Piazza's hands. Obviously, they don't like each other to begin with, so that adds to it. I don't think Clemens' vision would have been any wider than the brim of his hat. Clemens picked up the bat and threw it, thinking, Goddamn, is that great! Had no idea Piazza was running down the baseline. I thought it was ridiculous. But Piazza is far more attuned with the press than Clemens is. So that enters into the equation.
Playboy: Is that a lesson to be learned, to make nice with the press?
Knight: That's not what I'm talking about.
Playboy: Look at your career. You've had 10 or 12 incidents over a period of 29 years, yet it's those incidents that are always mentioned in stories about you.
Knight: I'll buy that. How many times, without ever knowing me, have you seen that chair thrown? My contention is, if I throw the chair and it hits somebody and hurts somebody, that's a real issue. That chair was scooted across the floor. That's no different from a guy throwing a coat, kicking a water bucket, slamming a clipboard down.
Playboy: But you've got to admit that the chair-throwing had a dramatic effect. It lasted longer on videotape than someone kicking a bucket. For the visuals alone, why are you surprised they keep showing it?
Knight: I don't have any problem with it being shown once, but for 15 years? I was standing in the wings to be introduced on Letterman's show. Here I am, a coach who's had three teams that have won national championships, a team that's won the Olympic gold medal, another that's won the Pan Am gold medal, and as I'm being introduced, on the monitor is a replay of me throwing the chair across the floor. I almost turned around and walked out. Of all the things that could be put up there relative to an introduction of me, this seems to be about as cheap a piece of shit as somebody could do.
Playboy: How hard is it to lose?
Knight: It's not at all difficult to lose a game. If you're sloppy in preparation, if you don't pay attention to detail, if execution is not what it should be, you're going to get beat. Winning is a difficult proposition. Who among us does everything consistently well? I made up a definition of discipline when I was at West Point: doing what has to be done, doing it as well as you can do it, doing it when it has to be done, doing it that way all the time. Four things. It's not a whip and a chair, it's those four ingredients that make a disciplined person.
Playboy: Can you relate to Phil Jackson's remark that losing made him feel humiliated and worthless, as if he didn't exist?
Knight: That's stretching it for me. Losing has always made me feel that there was something more I could have done. What else was there that could have happened? Why did we make these mistakes? What the hell was so-and-so thinking about? What didn't I do in preparation? Losing is a defeat. There's a difference between thinking you've been defeated and thinking you've lost.
Playboy: How deeply does defeat affect you?
Knight: Losing has always been far more difficult to deal with than the enjoyment you get out of winning. Winning is really important—winning fairly, squarely within the rules, but winning. Winning is a by-product of doing things right. Too many people get caught up in the euphoria of winning, rather than just accepting it as what the hell you're supposed to do. On the other hand, losing is not what you're supposed to do. The disappointment, the frustration, the agony of losing is infinitely greater than whatever comes with winning.
Playboy: What do you think of high school players who skip college and go straight to the NBA?
Knight: I disagree with the theory that a kid has to go to college. If college is a stepping-stone toward lifelong security, but a kid can sign a multimillion-dollar contract when he's 18, why does he need to go to college?
Playboy: Would you agree with Isiah Thomas, who said, "When you go to college, you're not a student-athlete but an athlete-student. Your main purpose is to be not an Einstein but a ballplayer, to generate some money, to put people in the stands"?
Knight: If he said it. In many cases the kid is an athlete-student, but that depends on the emphasis coaches place on the two. We have shown more than anybody in the country that a kid can play and graduate and the team can win. If it can be done here it can be done anywhere.
Playboy: But how do you change the emphasis and make academics the higher priority among Division I schools?
Knight: If you want to really promote academics at this level, what you do is tie scholarships to graduation. If a kid doesn't graduate in five years, the team loses that scholarship for two years, or whatever. That's how you make academics really important. But nobody wants to do that because of the tremendously low graduation rates around the country in both football and basketball. There are highly ranked basketball teams that graduate less than 25 percent of the players who enter.
Playboy: And your record?
Knight: We graduated over 78 percent of the freshmen who entered in basketball. Indiana overall graduated 68 percent of its freshman class. So when this president, Myles Brand, commented about my dismissal, saying we needed to get back to academics, I didn't know whether he was talking about lowering the standard of the basketball team to that of the university or bringing the standard of the university up to that of the basketball team.
Playboy: How did you become so much bigger than life? You've rarely had a player who's drawn more attention than you have. When other teams played you, they wanted to beat Knight more than Indiana. What is it about you?
Knight: I don't know. I'm not those people. This may be an answer to that: One of the strengths I have had is a lot of the negative press I've received. It has established some kind of an aura about me that sets me apart. I've never tried to please everybody.
Playboy: You certainly didn't please the current Indiana administration. Do you think you've been treated unfairly by the university?
Knight: The administration and the trustees have been deceitful right from the beginning. Their approach has been one of enormous duplicity. They've been dishonest in their presentation of things and reasons. They put a spin on everything they can in an attempt to explain why I've been dismissed as the basketball coach. The people who have made these decisions are the most dishonest people I've ever dealt with. And yet, I'm not sure I blame them as much as I blame myself for not having followed my feelings and certainly my wife's feelings, which would have been to leave five years ago. The key positions at the university changed six years ago. Back then there were people in those spots who I got along with extremely well; they never had a problem with me that wasn't quickly or readily solved. I just didn't fit in with the new people, with their approach to things, their self-interest, their agendas. I have yet to see anything they've done that's been of any benefit whatsoever to either the faculty or the students.
Playboy: Has what happened to you soured what you accomplished at Indiana in 29 years? Do you feel bitter?
Knight: I try not to because of all the good people who were involved and all the great kids I've had a chance to coach and the great opportunities that were afforded me personally. Yet it's hard not to feel that way. As an example, on the Neil Reed question: Two trustees became investigators, and they spoke to me for an hour and 40 minutes. One of them mentioned seven times the pressure he was under. I said, "What the hell pressure are you under? This isn't your job, you don't get paid to be a trustee. Why don't you coach basketball for a year and see what pressure's like?" The other guy never took a note on anything I said. When those two left my office, my wife, who had sat in, said, "They may be the two most disgusting people I've ever had to sit through."
Playboy: The tape showing you with your hands on Reed's neck didn't surface for three years. When it was shown, did you feel trapped or vindicated?
Knight: When this practice tape was shown, everything this kid said was refuted. One trustee from here apparently made the comment: "Now that we've seen it and all that bullshit has been dispelled, let's go on to something that's important." When it went one day beyond looking at that practice tape—that's when I should have quit, had I been true to myself. I should have said: "This is enough of your chickenshit garbage. This thing was discussed and looked at three years ago. If you people want to reopen it, do it with another coach. This is enough of you people positioning for the press. I don't need this bullshit. Goodbye." That is what I will regret more than anything else in my life.
Playboy: Looking ahead for a moment, what happened to the talk of your working for Isiah Thomas and the Indiana Pacers?
Knight: He said I could do anything I wanted to do with the Pacers, from helping occasionally to being with them full-time. I said "Anything I can do to help you, I'll do. All you got to do is tell me. You want me to come to practice, I'll come to practice. You want me to scout a team, I will. You want me to scout your own team—tell me what you want me to do specifically and I'll be glad to do it. I just don't want to make a commitment to doing anything on a continual part-time or full-time basis at this point."
Playboy: Thomas has said about playing for you: "There were times when if I'd had a gun, I think I would have shot him. And other times I wanted to tell him I loved him."
Knight: Did you ever feel like shooting one of your kids, literally? So why is that a big deal? Isiah Thomas, with tears in his eyes, once said, "Coach, don't you ever change."
Playboy: It's been written that the most stormy relationship you had with a player was with Isiah. Is that true?
Knight: I don't think so. Isiah in the final analysis was extremely successful as a player for us. We've had other players who weren't successful and left.
Playboy: One of the players who left is Larry Bird. How long was he at Indiana?
Knight: He was at Indiana for a month, but he never was here for a practice. He was awed by Indiana. Larry Bird is one of my great mistakes. When he came here, it was a major, major adjustment for a kid coming out of his background—a small town in southern Indiana, a real poor kid growing up, his father was an alcoholic, his mother was a cook at a mental institution. I was negligent in realizing what Bird needed at that time in his life. I let Larry Bird down when he was an incoming freshman.
Playboy: Did he talk to you before he left?
Knight: No, he just left. As I thought things over, I made a mistake in terms of who I had him room with. I had him room with a really sophisticated, articulate, well-dressed kid the same age, Jimmy Wisman, who went on to become vice president of a large advertising firm. Jimmy was everything Larry wasn't: He was really a nice-looking kid, the girls gravitated to him, he was really good with people, was an excellent student. Just in terms of roommates it was a bad match.
Playboy: What do you think of Bird's leaving the Pacers as a coach after three years?
Knight: Larry Bird's decision to leave was better than my decision to stay here. His decision was a close adherence to his principles.
Playboy: The Columbia Journalism Review wrote, "College athletics is a corrupt and corrupting enterprise." It points out how legendary college coaches wield enormous clout—often exercised to hold hostage university budgets, building programs and academic enterprises. Do you take exception to that?
Knight: I'm sure there are examples of what they're saying. The president before this one, when he left, stated publicly that we had raised over $5 million for the library. Is that corrupt? Is that bad? We've been instrumental in establishing two professorial chairs and refurbishing the golf course. So athletics and people in them can be very valuable assets to a university.
Playboy: What about academic dishonesty in college athletic departments, such as the former tutor for the University of Minnesota who wrote 400 papers for 20 basketball players between 1993 and 1998? That's not necessarily an exceptional case, is it?
Knight: There is a lot of academic fraud in the eligibility process. One thing that has happened entirely too much is the athletic endorsement and expenditure on athletic tutoring. A school like this one has a tremendous budget for tutoring. I'm not of the opinion that it's not necessary, but what happens is that a kid becomes almost totally dependent on tutors. Now, there's a fine line between the tutor and the kid, particularly in work done outside the classroom, and that's where there are problems.
Playboy: Isn't it true that tutors are often told by coaches to keep the athletes eligible in any way they can, which at times leads to cheating?
Knight: How the hell would I know what other coaches do? You think coaches talk to each other about how they cheat?
Playboy: Did you ever have any drug-related problems with your players over the years?
Knight: We had a marijuana problem in 1978—there were eight kids involved. I brought them in one at a time. I ended up keeping six of them because they were honest with me about what they were doing, and I dropped two because they weren't. There have been some pretty good people who have experimented with drugs, so that in itself is not a reason to discount someone.
Playboy: What do you think of athletes who invoke God when they're interviewed after a sporting event?
Knight: Let's let the Lord work on cancer, on providing homes for the homeless. The first time I ever coached at college, not knowing what the hell I was doing, we were playing at Princeton, and before I sent the team out we said the Lord's Prayer. Our trainer put his arm around my shoulders and said, "For whatever it's worth, I just don't think you and praying mix." And we never said another pregame prayer.
Playboy: Are you at all religious?
Knight: I believe strongly in God in my way. The greatest religious statement ever made was: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If a person can follow that, what the hell difference does it make what religion he follows?
Playboy: When was the last time you prayed?
Knight: You don't need to know that, nor does anybody else.
Playboy: You're a friend of former president George Bush. What do you think of his son?
Knight: I really like Bush. He's a good guy—he's friendly, down-to-earth, interesting. He cares, and he cares enough to make damn sure he's got good people around him. That's what being a president is all about.
Playboy: Would you ever consider running for political office?
Knight: No. You have to commit yourself to too many obligations.
[He interrupts our talk to take a call from former Dayton coach Don Donoher, now a scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are planning to drive to the University of Akron the next day, where their sons are assistant basketball coaches. "We'll meet you at the Bob Evans off 75," Knight says. "There's a really interesting guy here with me who's going to come. He wants to know how I feel about God, marijuana, Gore and Bush. This has been like an investigation being conducted by the CIA to see whether or not I'm capable of running the Buenos Aires branch of covert operations. This is a question-and-answer session the likes of which Rockefeller did not put his potential son-in-law through." We break for dinner. The next morning Knight picks me up and we drive to Akron.]
Playboy: We'll drop the politics and move on to what's happened to you.
Knight: In a way, this whole thing that's transpired amuses me, because there's so much bullshit and so much deceit involved. All these people had to do was come to me and say, "You don't fit in with what we want our basketball coach to be. You're no longer what we think is needed here." All I'd have said is, "That's fine. Let's settle up."
Playboy: Are you a difficult person to deal with because, perhaps, they're afraid of you?
Knight: That's their problem, not mine. Why should anybody be afraid to deal with me? I've been at two different institutions, and neither one has had a problem in academics or recruiting violations while I've been there. So what's to fear?
Playboy: The Columbia Journalism Review wrote: "Bobby Knight is perhaps the most powerful public figure in Indiana and very few people, from the governor on down, are willing to cross him."
Knight: Something like that boggles my mind. How do they determine that? I have never once entered into a political decision. That's asinine. Rarely have I publicly gone after somebody.
Playboy: Because few have crossed you.
Knight: Oh, bullshit.
Playboy: Can you relate to this from Mike Ditka: "Sometimes our mouths and reactions operate before our brains get synchronized, and that happens to me a lot"?
Knight: Everybody has said something they'd like to recant. Given time to think, by tomorrow maybe I would change what I'd said. But some people who I know are absolute scumbags in their personal lives have written things that judge me. That's why you really have no chance with the press.
Playboy: Knowing that, why take it on? Isn't that tilting at windmills in a way?
Knight: Probably. I really tried in this thing with the university to be something I wasn't back in the spring.
Playboy: Was that when you were saying you welcomed a zero-tolerance policy?
Knight: I never, ever, said I welcomed zero tolerance, because it was never explained to me. I simply said that guidelines can be of benefit, period. The whole idea of using things that had happened up to 25 years ago, and using them inaccurately, eventually really pissed me off. Pissed me off more at myself than at anybody else for having accepted it.
Playboy: Were you getting any advice at the time? Were you talking to your lawyer?
Knight: I talked to some people. And almost without exception they told me to leave.
Playboy: So you were not listening to the advice?
Knight: What I did in this situation was think about the wrong things.
Playboy: What were you thinking about?
Knight: How this has been a very comfortable place for me to live. When I quit coaching, I envisioned being able to stay around the university, to help in any way they asked, to raise money—there's nobody who could raise more money for this university than I could—without ever interfering with anybody who replaced me as a coach. It was a very comfortable life in an area that I liked, around people I liked. So, OK, they tell me, here's what you have to do. And I could do any of those things. I could change in press conferences. What I intended to do was not even have press conferences. I was going to have a postgame radio show where I'd answer questions from two people who knew about the game. But what was zero tolerance? Does that mean one technical foul and we fire you? Or you go speak somewhere and somebody doesn't like your answer and they complain about it, and we fire you? There were never any outlines placed on this phrase. I asked two different vice presidents to define zero tolerance and they couldn't do it.
Playboy: Why would you agree to something you couldn't get defined?
Knight: I'm just telling you why I fucking agreed to it! Because of my lifestyle and how much I liked it here. So, I say to myself, if I have to do this to stay here, and I have to agree to this, now's the time for me to just simply say OK, I'll do it. And that was wrong. That was a mistake. That's what I'm trying to tell you.
Playboy: But why didn't you ask for zero tolerance to be explained?
Knight: I don't know. Do you do everything that's brilliant? Sometimes you don't cover everything. But I certainly tried to find out right away.
Playboy: The definition of zero tolerance as printed was: "Any verified, inappropriate physical contact with players, members of the university community or others in connection with the coach's employment at IU will be the cause for immediate termination."
Knight: What is "verified"? Explain the word inappropriate to me.
Playboy: You say you never understood what zero tolerance meant. Would you have accepted that answer from any of your players?
Knight: That wouldn't have come up with players, because I would have explained things a lot better. You writers expect things out of the people you're writing about that you yourself never think about.
Playboy: Indiana president Myles Brand said there were many instances in which you had been defiant and hostile. Did he point these out to you in private?
Knight: Never! That's bullshit. Another thing Brand said was that I didn't follow the chain of command. Twenty years ago my contract was written so that I had final approval over everything to do with men's basketball at Indiana University. Now, you tell me, where's my chain of command? There is none. I don't have to ask anybody there for a single thing. And I put that in there because I was the only guy who really knew how to run basketball at Indiana, and I didn't want any interference with the scheduling, the recruiting, anything. I've had five athletic directors since I've been here and this guy [Clarence Doninger] is the only one I didn't get along with, because he's the most incompetent and the least trustworthy person I've ever met in athletics. The guy's a little man, a very small person in all respects other than size.
Playboy: Was your problem with him always about basketball matters?
Knight: No, it was never about anything. But it didn't make any difference, because he had no say in what we did anyhow, which he resented from the beginning. But the guy had never been in athletics—he's a lawyer, didn't know the first thing about how people in athletics think.
Playboy: Did you ever physically threaten Doninger?
Knight: No. What would I physically threaten the guy for?
Playboy: It was reported that you did after a game on February 19, 2000.
Knight: Now you get into this bullshit.
Playboy: We don't know anything more than what was reported.
Knight: Then let me tell you exactly what happened. This goes to show how untrustworthy the guy is. The biggest game of the year for us last season was playing Ohio State here. I thought if we could beat them and Michigan State we could win the Big Ten championship. We get in the Ohio State game and we have it won, but we lose it in the end. I walk through the hallway and here's the athletic director, after we've gotten our asses beat, and I haven't seen him once all year. He looks at me and says, "Boy, that was a tough game." And I said, "How the hell would you know?" And I just kept on going. Then I came back and said, "I don't even understand what you're doing here." He said, "I have a right to be here." I said, "I don't care what your rights are. Nobody wants you here, nobody gives a damn about you being here under these circumstances." I didn't raise my voice, there was no threatening gesture. The next two days, at three different meetings, this athletic director told people that he knew if someone hadn't interfered with me, I would have punched him. That's what I was dealing with.
Playboy: Do you ever wish you had it in you to be able to ignore the kind of stuff that really bothers you?
Knight: You can't imagine how much I ignore. I go to a game and people are all over my ass, and I never say anything. I just walk on and off the floor.
Playboy: Kent Harvey, the freshman who called you by your last name and was the catalyst for your being fired, was burned in effigy outside Brand's home, and fliers of him were printed with the words Wanted: Dead. How concerned were you for him?
Knight: When I addressed the fans the last time I talked to them, I told them to leave the kid alone.
Playboy: Harvey and his two brothers withdrew from the university and left the state. What do you think of that?
Knight: I have not followed what direction their lives have taken.
Playboy: Do you feel for the kid?
Knight: Not in the slightest.
Playboy: Was he wrong in saying anything about you?
Knight: The kid's stepfather used me. He talked about how I said "fuck this" and "fuck that" and "goddamned this" and "goddamned that." The total content of what I said was this, verbatim: "Son, I don't call people by their last names. My name to you is Coach or Mr. Knight, and you should remember that when you're dealing with elders." And I walked away. Would it piss you off?
Knight: Would what was said by the stepfather piss you off?
Playboy: Didn't the stepfather also say he didn't think you should be fired over this incident?
Knight: [Bangs the center of the steering wheel with his fist] Jesus Christ! This is bullshit! I'm not here for a fucking inquisition! And if that's what this is, then get the fuck out and hitchhike back home! The fucking stepfather was a fucking goddamn fucking asshole from the word goddamn go! He fucking lied and he lied and he lied! Jesus Christ! I mean, this is my fucking life we're talking about! My fucking heart was ripped out by this goddamn bullshit!
Knight: OK my ass! It isn't fucking OK! Goddamn it, I don't need this shit with Playboy or anybody else! I'll drop you off in fucking Dayton and you can get home.
Playboy: Please, Coach——
Knight: This is fucking bullshit! I don't want to hear another fucking word.
[For two minutes, we drive in silence. Knight continues to stew.]
Knight: You haven't brought up one fucking positive thing I've said or done since we've been talking. I'm tired of it. We'll get to Dayton, you get this car and drive back to Bloomington.
Knight: No ifs, ands or buts about it!
Playboy: One of the problems you've had to deal with is that the press has not been nice to you, or they only report certain things. There are issues that will remain in the press for the rest of your life if you don't take the opportunity to give your side.
Knight: That's not true. [Calming down] I was in Puerto Rico in 1979—that's 21 years ago—and to this day I have still not punched a Puerto Rican policeman or called the Brazilian women's teams "niggers" and "whores." Seated 40 feet away from me were 12 players representing the U.S. in the Pan American games. Eight of them were black and three played for me. Now, how logical would it be for "America's greatest racist" to make that comment under those circumstances? So it isn't going to change. I have been burned too many times trying to deal with somebody who I think is going to deal with things honestly. This guy you're talking about [Harvey's stepfather] asked me five different times through letters to allow him to write a book on me. I turned him down every single time. So then he became a guy on a radio talk show and never did a day go by when he didn't rip my ass about something. I think it was the kid's father, not his stepfather, who was very apologetic about what happened. The stepfather just tried to crucify me by making up one thing after another. So you asked me if I feel sorry about these kids? Hell no, I don't feel sorry for them, because their own stepfather did what was done to them. There was another coach standing about 10 feet away when this incident happened, and a player 15 feet away sitting in a car with the window down who heard the whole thing. They corroborated what I said happened. And the kid himself and his brothers eventually had to recant what they had said. You don't understand how sick and tired you get of this bullshit.
Playboy: We're trying.
Knight: You do the things you know are the right things to do to enable your school to have a really good basketball program. You don't succumb to any of the temptations of recruiting violations or academic fraud or anything like that, and I'm not sure what else can be asked of a guy. The petty bullshit that went on here, the guys I felt were friends that weren't, this president's idiotic accusations . . . another one was: Knight demeaned and insulted our alumni by not speaking at luncheons in Chicago and Indianapolis. Well, my contract called for me to make four appearances a year on behalf of the university. Over 20 years I probably averaged never less than 20 appearances per year. So this year, with the set of circumstances I was confronted with, my attorney said to me, "You just can't expose yourself to this stuff." So I spoke at six things. Now, Brand uses this as a reason why I'm being fired. How would you feel about that one? Another thing he referred to was all the public remarks that I had made criticizing the administration and the board of trustees. There isn't a day that goes by that some professor doesn't write a note in the paper about how inept this board of trustees and administration are. Are they going to fire all those professors? Am I denied freedom of speech?
Playboy: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he smelled a rat in what happened to you. Former coach Pete Newell said he smelled a setup, a trap. How do you feel?
Knight: The setup was such that I was put into an impossible situation. Anybody with any intelligence knows that zero tolerance is a prelude to failure. Nobody can operate on zero anything.
Playboy: Has Brand and his administration hurt the university?
Knight: That would have to be determined by somebody else. In my own case, I had a plan where I was going to leave $5 million from stuff that I would eventually do—write a book, television stuff, whatever—money that I don't need, for the athletic department. And a million of it would go to the football team as long as the coach remained. There's no way I would do that today. I spoke a while ago in southern Indiana and raised $60,000 for cancer research. That would have gone to the university. I told them I didn't want it to.
Playboy: How do you think things will change at Indiana basketball games?
Knight: We had the best fans in the world here and that will change, because they'll be allowed to yell and holler and scream and do whatever the hell they want to do with things now. I would never allow that, but that'll happen quickly now, "Bullshit bullshit" chants—I never let that happen here.
Playboy: How much mail did you receive after you were fired?
Knight: See that truck in front of us? That probably carried it. I've tried to read and answer everything that's been worthwhile. And I don't think there's been a negative thing sent.
Playboy: Did three ex-presidents send you letters of encouragement after your firing?
Knight: I heard from two. But that's nobody's business. I've heard from owners or coaches from 14 NFL franchises. I got a really nice letter from the governor of Wisconsin, telling me how much he appreciated what I had contributed to the Big Ten over the years. I never once heard from Indiana's governor. [When we arrive in Dayton, Don Donoher is waiting. Knight asks me to jump into the backseat. Donoher tells Knight he'll drive. Knight apologizes for being late, having missed a turn on the highway because "he got me so pissed off about an hour ago with these fucking questions that I was yelling and screaming at him and missed the fucking turnoff."]
Donoher: You just missed the turnoff and you're blaming Larry.
Knight: I was goddamn up near Middle-town before I realized we passed 70. I was so pissed off. It took me goddamn near the Ohio line before I started answering his fucking questions again.
Donoher: What are you two collaborating on?
Knight: I'm not really sure. There is a question remaining whether he will live long enough for this article to see the fucking light of day. You know that movie A Bridge Too Far? That's what happened with Larry this morning, but it was A Question Too Far. I think to a small degree I may have overreacted. [After the two coaches talk sports, legal matters and bakeries for a while, the interview continues.]
Playboy: Did you once lose a putter up a tree while golfing?
Knight: I one time threw a Ping putter into a tree and I came out the next day to look for it. It was a huge tree, and I climbed it and sat there while about five groups went through underneath me, and I never did find the goddamn putter. It was interesting trying to keep anyone from seeing me up in that tree.
Playboy: How good a golfer are you?
Knight: The last two times I played golf I bogied the last two holes to shoot 80. The six times before that I shot 76 four times, 77 once and 82. But what keeps me from being good is I'm not very flexible. I play a screwy game. I have an 11 and a nine wood because I don't hit irons well.
Playboy: Is Tiger Woods on his way to becoming the world's greatest athlete?
Knight: No, I don't think you can equate golf with athletics. An athlete can play anything, that's the difference. There have been some really good golfers, like Ben Hogan, who couldn't play anything else. Sam Snead was a good athlete. But Hogan, Byron Nelson—these guys weren't athletes.
Playboy: Do you consider golf a sport?
Knight: Yeah. You need athletic ability, hand-eye coordination, flexibility—there's never been a good golfer who didn't have good flexibility. J.C. Snead may be the best athlete playing golf—he played baseball good enough to sign a pro contract; he was a good basketball player. Jack Nicklaus was a good high school basketball player and a catcher in baseball. Until Woods has been able to play for 20 years at the level he plays at now, Nicklaus will always be the best player, because he played well longer than anybody else.
Playboy: But isn't someone who plays a sport an athlete?
Knight: You think a boxer is an athlete? What else can a boxer do but box? Sports are very individual in many cases, but a great athlete can play anything. You take a really good home run hitter—I'm not sure about McGwire, because I think he's a pretty good athlete—but really, what the hell else could Babe Ruth have played? He wasn't going to play football or basketball. He was just a baseball player.
Playboy: You have a high standard for the word athlete.
Knight: I have a very high standard. Because that's not the same thing as a player. A great player in any given sport might not necessarily be a great athlete.
Playboy: How did ESPN change the nature of college sports?
Knight: Television has had far too much control. That's also a result of colleges' search for the dollar. So now time-outs are two minutes, to get in as much commercial time as possible. That means more dollars. There aren't as many really good, smart basketball players today as there once were. And yet, overall, the quality of the player is much better. If you watch an ESPN show like SportsCenter, let's say there are 12 things showing. What will 10 of them be? Dunks. ESPN never shows a back cut and a bounce pass that leads to a layup—that's way too generic, but that's the guts of the game. They don't show a guy drawing a charge. They show a dunk. So kids have a much different idea of what the game is all about today than they had when I played. When I played, there was a much better understanding of how to play.
Playboy: Do you think players today play better or are at a different level from players in the past?
Knight: There isn't anybody playing basketball today that's any better than Jerry West or Oscar Robertson or Willis Reed or Havlicek or Bill Russell. Chamberlain. In golf nobody's playing any better than Nicklaus or Snead or Hogan or Nelson. But what's happened is, as we become more and more sports oriented as a country, there are more teams and more good players. But the great players now aren't any better than those of the past.
Playboy: Who's the best basketball player of them all?
Knight: Russell was the most valuable player ever. They won 11 championships in 13 years. Jordan is the best player, but Russell was the most valuable. And I really admired and liked Chamberlain. He was a dignified and gracious man. He gave and accomplished so much, and yet more was always expected from him. His records are phenomenal. I was a great admirer of Jerry West. Willis Reed—I started his basketball camp for him when I was a coach at Army.
Playboy: What about Kareem?
Knight: Jabbar was very good, but he wasn't Chamberlain or Russell.
Playboy: What did you think when Chamberlain revealed that he had slept with more than 20,000 women?
Knight: Dick Schaap told me a story of how he was at a sports banquet in New York where he had taken a picture with Chamberlain and Roger Staubach. And Schaap said, "Roger, you know the three of us have had sex with 20,002 women." And Chamberlain said, "Dick, that book's two years old." That's one of the greatest lines I've ever heard.
Playboy: How does a coach deal with someone like Shaquille O'Neal and his inability to sink free throws?
Knight: Maybe he's a bad free throw shooter. There's no panacea for bad free throw shooting. Chamberlain may be the greatest athlete that ever lived, and he couldn't shoot free throws. Maybe O'Neal won't be able to shoot free throws, maybe there's a mental block there. It seems to me that Phil Jackson got O'Neal playing better and more consistently than anybody ever has, so whether or not he ever shoots free throws well is incidental to what Jackson has done in one year with him.
Playboy: What do you think of a professional athlete like Allen Iverson releasing a hip-hop song with lines such as: "Man enough to pull a gun/Be man enough to squeeze it." And: "Come to me with faggot tendencies/You be sleeping where the maggots be."
Knight: If I were the owner of that team, upon hearing that one time, the guy would be traded.
Playboy: What things most upset you about a player?
Knight: That he doesn't develop a work ethic. That he doesn't pay attention to what's happening, doesn't see the game as it's developing. The difference between a lot of mediocre players and a lot of good players is the ability to see the game. Everybody looks, but very few see. The kid who learns to see has an advantage over all the kids who don't see. And perhaps what upsets me the most is when a kid simply doesn't take advantage of the ability he has. In the end he Bobby Knight ends up cheating himself, but in the process he also cheats his teammates.
Playboy: What's the best advice you've ever received as a player?
Knight: Having been told that any play in which you're involved may ultimately be a play that can be pointed to as having decided the game, so make sure that the level of your recognition and your intensity is as great as it can be as long as you're in the game. The players who can most closely develop that kind of approach are always the players who wind up being involved in a game that goes down to the wire.
[We arrive in Akron and watch the team practice for two hours, then go out for dinner. At eight Donoher gets back behind the wheel of Knight's Lincoln, and Knight sits beside him with one tape recorder between them. I'm in the back with a second recorder.]
Playboy: We haven't asked you about your two passions other than coaching: hunting and fishing. What is it about hunting that attracts you?
Knight: As you get older, if you're going to compete, you damn near have to play golf or tennis. But there's a competitiveness in hunting; the bird gets up, are you quick enough to get on it? Can you hit it? There's also stamina in hunting. Yesterday I walked in the woods for five hours—up steep hills and down. I was hunting for grouse, didn't see any, didn't get a shot.
Playboy: Is that considered a wasted day?
Knight: No. Karen roots for the birds when she goes with me. Fishing I really like—you're more challenged with the fish than with the birds. But I don't care for deep-sea fishing, where the boat fishes. The bell rings and you just grab the rod and try to reel it in. That's not fishing, that's catching.
Playboy: Steve Alford said he understood why people called you a genius—there was a method to your madness. Can coaches be geniuses?
Knight: Basketball is not nuclear physics or cancer research. I don't know how applicable the word genius is. Obviously some coaches are a hell of a lot smarter than others. But let's take another word you just used: madness. What response does that elicit? That borders on some form of insanity. So how accurate is the term madness in that phrase? Rasputin was mad. What does that imply?
Playboy: We'd like you to comment on some of the incidents that are usually described in articles about you. Given your earlier reaction to a question that disturbed you, would you be willing to answer these questions? We don't want you to get angry.
Knight: That doesn't guarantee I won't. But before you get into it, you're going to go over the same incidents that have been brought up in everything that's ever been written about me, and I'm tired of talking about them. With that, go ahead.
Playboy: In 1980 you fired a blank shot from a starter's pistol at Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Russ Brown. You said you did it "to keep from going nuts."
Knight: I fired a starter's pistol in a press room one time in what I thought was kind of a humorous situation. I don't recall ever saying that I did it to keep from going nuts.
Playboy: But did you fire it at someone or just into the air?
Knight: First of all, you don't aim a pistol that doesn't have a barrel, do you? This is simply a device that makes noise. It's a solid piece of metal.
Playboy: In 1981, during the Final Four in Philadelphia, did you shove a fan into a garbage can?
Knight: You know I have no interest in this whole line. Zero. Everything I have said relative to these things has been documented and redocumented and I'm not going through it all again. [A heavy silence fills the car for a few minutes. Then Knight addresses the incident in his own way.] Let me create a situation for you, and you tell me how you think most people would react, OK? A team is playing and prior to the game, fans obnoxiously berate the players on the other team. That day, the team that had been berated wins the game. That night, their coach is going to dinner and a fan, who is obviously under the influence, says, "Well, Coach, your team played well today." And the coach replies by saying, "Yeah, we just didn't roll over for your team, did we?" And the guy starts screaming at the top of his lungs that the coach is an asshole, in front of probably a hundred people in a crowded restaurant. How do you think the coach would react to that?
Playboy: If the fan was inebriated, maybe the best thing would be to walk away.
Knight: How do you avoid it when the guy's screaming at you in front of a hundred people? Do you think there are many competitive people who would avoid that?
Playboy: It's obviously a difficult situation, but if you're a professional ballplayer or a coach, you really shouldn't get into tussles with fans. What do you think, Coach Donoher?
Donoher: Unless you're confronted with it I don't know how you can answer it. I've never been confronted with anything like that. [Long pause.]
Playboy: Let's change the subject to Bill Walton, who often bad-mouths you on camera or writes negatively about you. Why does Walton have it in for you?
Knight: When some people bad-mouth you, it's really the best compliment you can get. When they agree with you, then you know you're wrong. Walton is a guy I would never want to think well of me, because then I would know I had something I should really be bothered about. Walton doesn't know me. He's never attended a practice or a clinic that I've given. Walton was one of the great players. As a person, he leaves a lot to be desired. A guy who refuses to try to represent his country in the Olympics is a guy I'd never have any respect for whatsoever.
Playboy: If you get back into coaching, would you consider changing your coaching style?
Knight: Most of what has been written about my coaching style has been written by people who have never been to a practice. Have you seen anything where players who have played for me through their eligibility have ever complained about my coaching style?
Playboy: You have a style that you know works, yet there is a perception that indicates some changes might be in order.
Knight: And who's responsible for the perception?
Playboy: Partly the media. But they're obviously reporting things they've seen.
Knight: What have they seen? Give me an example.
Playboy: They've seen you get angry.
Knight: Have they seen other coaches get angry?
Playboy: Of course.
Knight: Has that been given the same attention as my getting upset?
Playboy: They're not necessarily providing footage of a chair being thrown across a gym floor.
Knight: I saw Rick Majerus, who's a very good coach and friend, pick up an ice cooler in a game in Hawaii where we were playing them and throw it on the floor, with ice and water going everywhere. Did you ever see a picture of it on television? No, you didn't. I saw John Cheney, one of the great people I know in coaching, tell a guy he was going to kill him. Have you ever seen that on television, replayed and replayed?
Playboy: So the question comes back: Why you?
Knight: You know, forget this whole thing. Do whatever the fuck you want to do with this. I don't think you understand that I don't need to go through this kind of bullshit. [Throws the tape recorder into the backseat.] I'm not trying to defend myself. I don't give a fuck what you write. You come here and bring up all the bullshit that's happened to me over all these years, and why? This whole thing has been ridiculous. You think I've enjoyed this bullshit? Going through this crap? Like I'm on trial somewhere? Like I have to defend myself? [Slight pause] Give me your two tape recorders.
Playboy: No, Coach, I'm not going to do that.
Knight: Give me the tape recorders!
Playboy: I can't.
Knight: Stop the car, Don. [He turns around, his knees on the seat, his head now inches from mine, as he grabs my wrists, trying to get my bag with the tape recorders in it. "Pull over!" he orders Donoher, who keeps on driving. "I want him out of here. And I want those goddamn tapes!"
"You don't want to do this," I say.
"Calm down, Bob," Donoher says, still concentrating on the road. "Sit down."
We drive on in tense silence for a while. Then Donoher says, "We have a bad situation here. I don't think it's a good idea for the two of you to be in the car together when I leave. I can drive Larry back or I can drive Coach back and you can drive his car back."
When we arrive at Donoher's car we all get out. Donoher asks me what I want to do. I say I'll do whatever coach Knight wants me to do. I'm willing to get a taxi rather than force Donaher to drive the 200 miles back to Bloomington. But Knight grumbles, "Get in the car, I'll drive you." And Donoher says, "Stay in the back, don't sit in the front." I get back in the car and Knight gets behind the wheel and says a gruff goodbye to Donoher. As soon as Donoher leaves, Knight says, "I'll take you back, but I'll be goddamned if I'll be your chauffeur. Get in the front."
I leave my bag with the tape recorders in the back and get in the front seat. But before we start to drive I look at Knight and stick out my hand. "Shake my hand, Coach," I say, wanting to break the tension. He looks at me for a moment, then shakes my hand. For the next two hours, as we drive back to Bloomington, he pours out his heart.
"You don't understand," he says. "You can't understand. How world you like to have had your whole world taken from you for no good reason ? Today was the first time in 38 years where I attended a practice without having a team. For 29 years I did things for Indiana, I raised $5 million for the library, I established two professorial chairs, and when I left there was no thanks. Not a word. I'm selling my house, moving to Phoenix. I don't know if I'll ever get another coaching job. I never made more than $230,000 at Indiana, and when they hire some new coach it will cost them between $600,000 and a million." He begins laying out his woes. How someone at the Mexican restaurant where we had eaten the night before had goaded him and claimed he had abused him and took him to court, and it took nine days before the judge threw out the case. How the university lied and spun stories about him. He never threw a vase at the athletic director's secretary; she wasn't even in the room when that happened. And he didn't call her a fucking bitch, but he said he didn't like her acting like a bitch. And about Neil Reed: Did I know that Knight asked his players whether they wanted Reed on the team and they voted him off, eight to zero, with one abstention? And Reed went to another program and the coach there said he didn't belong? Did I know any of that? How come we never hear about these things, only about him?
"I don't think anyone you've ever interviewed has been more forthright or straight-forward as I have with the questions you've asked," he says.
"That's why I didn't want to let you destroy the tapes," I say.
"You can put the machines back on. I won't do that."]
Playboy: Twenty-five years ago in Newsweek you said that most of your coaching is negative, that you concentrate on the ways you could lose. Has it always been like that for you?
Knight: That's exactly right. To win you have to eliminate losing. You figure all the reasons why you can lose—sloppy ball handling, poor shot selection, no block out, no help on defense. Those things don't guarantee you're going to win, but they will all guarantee, if they're not handled properly, that you're going to lose.
I can remember my mom saying time and time and frigging time again, "Just remember, somebody has to lose." And my rejoinder has always been, "Why should it be me?" My dislike for losing was far more of a motivating factor than my wanting to win.
Playboy: Let's talk about your parents.
Knight: My dad was an incredibly disciplined person. From 1937 until he died in 1970, my dad owned just three cars. He never had a credit card, never paid for anything over time. If he hadn't saved the money to buy something he just didn't buy it. He was a lifelong railroader, he never made more than $8000 a year. Yet we never went hungry, we lived comfortably. My dad told me only two or three things: One was to never gamble. And I never have.
Playboy: What were the other two?
Knight: They're not any of your business.
Playboy: Was he strict?
Knight: Not really.
Playboy: Did you have any heart-to-heart talks with him?
Knight: We talked about the important things. I wouldn't say they were long conversations. He died at 72. He had a really tough time. He had contracted acute leukemia, which is basically a children's disease. They tried to convert it to chronic leukemia, and had they been successful it might have given him another eight or 10 years to live.
Playboy: And your mom?
Knight: She was a schoolteacher—second and third grade. Very smart. I had her as a second grade teacher. She was very strict. At my mom's funeral there were three ladies in their 80s that I had as teachers in the fourth and sixth grades. I told them, "Would anybody imagine today that I was absolutely scared to death of the three of you?"
Playboy: Your grandmother was an important person in your life, wasn't she?
Knight: My grandmother lived with us until she passed away when I was 19. She always used the public library. I was one of the few boys who had a library card, which I had from the time I was old enough to read. My grandmother used to go into the country to buy vegetables or visit her sister in Pennsylvania or go to the movies, and I'd always go with her. In 1960, when she was 83, I came home from college and found her where she had passed away after going for a walk, sitting in the living room with her coat and hat on. My mom passed away 27 years later in the same room in a chair facing the one where my grandmother died. She was working a crossword puzzle when she passed away. She was almost the same age as my grandmother.
Playboy: Who are your heroes?
Knight: I have interesting heroes. Ted Williams, who helped thousands of people without anyone knowing what he had done. Harry Truman, who had the courage to drop the atomic bomb and live with the consequences. Probably the most devastating decision ever made in world history. Ulysses S. Grant. John Wood, my favorite military hero. He was commander general of the Fourth Armored Division that spearheaded Patton's march across France. A guy like George Steinbrenner, who does things with millions of dollars to help people. People who have been willing to take a chance and do things are heroes of mine.
Playboy: It's past midnight, Coach, and it's been a long day. Let me throw some offbeat questions at you. If you could have witnessed any moment in history, what would you choose?
Knight: I would have really enjoyed seeing five loaves and seven fishes feed 5000 goddamn people.
Playboy: In what period of time would you have liked to live?
Knight: I would have enjoyed living in the West from 1875 until the 1890s, when your disagreements were settled by whoever had the fastest draw. And I would have worked awfully hard at it.
Playboy: If you could have been any person?
Knight: I'm satisfied with me.
Playboy: Fought in any war?
Knight: The American Revolution. It was a decided underdog taking on the world's most powerful country and winning on sheer determination.
Playboy: Composed any music?
Knight: God Bless America.
Playboy: If you were to be successful in another profession?
Knight: If I could have done any one thing other than coach, I would want to be in charge of America's antidrug program with the authority to handle it any way I'd want. I would send the military to take out any drug-producing plant wherever in the world it was.
Playboy: Most terrifying moment of your life?
Knight: Two or three times when I've been very close to being involved in major automobile accidents, and in one case I could have been the cause of serious injury or death to others.
Playboy: What quotation would you like to have authored?
Knight: "Nuts." You know where that comes from? It's what Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe said when the Germans demanded that he surrender Bastogne. The 101st Airborne division was surrounded, and the Germans sent a demand for surrender and McAuliffe answered with one word. They told Patton what McAuliffe had said and Patton said they had to get going because a man that eloquent had to be saved.
Playboy: If you could change one thing about your childhood?
Knight: I would like to have had brothers and sisters.
Playboy: If you could ensure that your son shared one experience that you've had?
Knight: To have had parents that taught him as much as mine taught me.
Playboy: Live the life of any fictional character?
Knight: Robin Hood.
Playboy: Take revenge on any one person?
Knight: Right now it would be absolutely impossible for me to devote all the ideas I have to just one person.
Playboy: If you could be forgiven for one thing?
Knight: For those times when my lack of patience or understanding unjustly hurt somebody.
Playboy: Choose how you'll die?
Knight: Really late in life.
Playboy: Be reincarnated as an animal?
Knight: A mountain lion.
Playboy: Return to one year in your life, knowing what you know now?
Knight: Five years ago. Had I done that, I'd have been coaching someplace else the last five years.
Playboy: What do you think of Al McGuire's remark, that you remind him of Alexander the Great, "who conquered the world and then sat down and cried because there was nothing left to conquer"?
Knight: Basketball has always had a great fascination for me. I haven't yet conquered the game, so maybe that's what I'm trying to do.
Playboy: So retirement's out of the question. You really do want to coach again?
Knight: Yeah, I'd really like to coach again. I would like to wind up my coaching career working for people I really like and respect and who feel the same way about me. I want better final memories than I have right now.
Lawrence Grobel was a longtime contributing editor at Playboy. His Playboy Interview subjects included Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand, Steve Martin and John Huston. Grobel adapted the introduction to the Bobby Knight interview from his book, The Art of the Interview: Lessons From a Master of the Craft. Follow him on Twitter @LarryGrobel.
Photos by Jonathan Daniel