Knight touched, stomped and yelled his way through memorable coaching career

The setting was the press room at Assembly Hall, following a routine regular season basketball game between Indiana and Northwestern in the late 1990s.

The game was surprisingly close, but the only thing unusual about this night was an ice storm kept fans away and the building was less than half full.

The interview area was set up like a high school classroom but much larger. A podium sat up front with desks lined up for reporters.

Eventually Indiana coach Bobby Knight sauntered in and took questions. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, except someone asked a question just as Knight decided he was done and started to walk out. Knight paused for a moment, then stood in front of the podium, politely answered the question and left the room.

Now, this was the only time I attended a Knight news conference at Assembly Hall, but others in the room had experienced plenty. When the door closed shut, a loud sigh of relief could be heard, with some soft, giddy laughter sprinkled in.

The vibe was similar to a crowded 737, if the pilots had suffered severe food poisoning and the flight attendant successfully landed the plane. "Phew, can't believe we survived that one."

What a strange way to go through life. Working with Knight meant living on the edge, never knowing when the next angry outburst might occur or what would cause it. Imagine going through college with an academic coach who yelled anytime you weren't studying hard enough.

Knight was clearly an icon, commanding the sports spotlight for roughly 40 years while winning three national titles with the Hoosiers. He probably fits in a category with people like Howard Cosell or Mike Ditka - love them or hate them, they definitely made the sports world more interesting.

When news arrived that Knight died Wednesday at 83, I didn't think there was much else to say. But after giving it some thought, it turned out I had a number of Knight experiences.

The first was at the old college newspaper. Indiana was in town and a colleague, not me thankfully, asked Knight a seemingly innocuous question, something along the lines of, "Was it part of your strategy to double-team Roy Tarpley?"

Knight replied, "I'd double-team you if you got the ball in the post and judging by the looks of you, you wouldn't be too (gosh darn) effective."

Just coach Knight ruining someone's day for no reason.

Knight famously sparred with Illinois coach Lou Henson during much of the '80s and '90s. I saw Knight speak at the sporting goods convention at McCormick Place. He was good at it and seemed to enjoy the banquet circuit, probably because people who pay to hear someone speak generally come with a respectful, adoring attitude.

I witnessed maybe his most infamous Chicago moment, when he and NU coach Kevin O'Neill got into a slap fight at midcourt. Northwestern fans were chanting "Hoosier Daddy," a takeoff of the popular, "Who's Your Daddy?" Knight took offense, O'Neill fired back and before we knew it, the two had to be separated.

There was another night after a Northwestern game when Les Grobstein said something to Knight that caused him to slam his fist on the podium, unleash some choice words and storm out. Les had a gift for that, it seems.

Former Bulls guard A.J. Guyton played for Knight's final Indiana team in 1999-2000. I asked him about those days, when news leaked of a practice confrontations with former player Neil Reed and the Hoosiers were blown out by Pepperdine in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

Guyton said he hated how things turned out because it ruined his final tournament experience. So while the world was closing in on Knight, it was interesting to hear from a player who enjoyed playing for the unpredictable coach and was hoping the experience would last longer.

So maybe the best way to summarize Knight's volatile, successful career is like this: You didn't have to play for him if you didn't want to.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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