Over the weekend, Bob Knight returned Assembly Hall for the first time in 20 years. He had held a two-decade long grudge against Indiana for his firing in 2000, and it kept the historic coach from returning to the place where he won 659 games and three national championships in 29 seasons.
To say that Knight is a divisive figure in college basketball, and at Indiana, is an understatement. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike the man, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons to love him, too. He has always been abrasive, demonstrative and fiery, and he has crossed lines. It’s what led to his dismissal from Bloomington 20 years ago.
Love or hate him, Bob Knight is a college basketball icon. When you talk about the coaches who have defined the sport, you cannot ignore his name. He is one of the winningest coaches ever, he is responsible for the last undefeated champion team, and his personality is attention-grabbing, whether positive or negative depending on where you stand. In short, Bob Knight is undeniable.
Even though Indiana fans have firmly sat in two camps about their former coach, with some still worshiping their former leader and borderline pushing for his return to the sideline, while others wish the school would move on from his controversy. But when Knight walked onto the floor at Assembly Hall on Saturday at halftime of the game against Purdue, the most apt game for him to make his return, everyone was on their feet, and everyone was emotional. There was no divide at that time, among Indiana fans or the college basketball world.
It felt right to see coach back where he belonged.
The moment was certainly a lot for Knight as his nose turned purple as the tears that had built up for years began to sprinkle and pour down his cheeks. He had spent 20 years away from a place that was integral to his life for three decades, and for what? A grudge, a point, a principle. None of that mattered Saturday.
Time heals all wounds. It’s an saying that you’ve undoubtedly heard. Perhaps someone said it to you after you and your girlfriend broke up, or maybe it was after you suffered some kind of other loss. But you’ve heard it, whether you believe it or not.
Let Knight’s return to Indiana serve as proof of its legitimacy. This is a man who has made a name being stubborn and aggressive. Twenty years is a long time to avoid anything, especially the place that meant so much to you for so long, but he did it. Bob Knight really avoided Indiana for two decades, all because he was angry.
But that anger has clearly subsided, or at least is not as important to him now as it once was. Rather, the significance of Indiana, its basketball program and the people who make up the fan base and university resurfaced for Knight, and he ended his self-exile. Surrounded by his fans, players and the building he accomplished so much in, it was clear by his reactions that it all meant the world to him.
It was a powerful moment for all of college basketball, but it’s more than that: it was a powerful moment for humanity. It was reconciliation, and that is one of the most beautiful things in the world. People make mistakes. People get angry. People hate one another. But time heals all wounds, and these negatives can be salvaged when people decide to let those feelings go for a brighter future.
When Knight was fired in 2000, he gave a farewell speech on campus, and he was gracious in his exit. Although the ugliness of staying away for two decades let some wounds fester until he sewed them shut this weekend, his comments then remain true today, and they ring especially strong now after the reconciliation has completed.
Remember, if Bob Knight and Indiana can make up, then so can you and whomever or whatever you’ve been holding a grudge against for years.
“People change over the years, and that changes situations, for good and for bad, but don’t let the student body, the energy, the enthusiasm the student body has had for basketball, please don’t let that change,” Knight said. “If you want to do something to remember me by, do that. Continue the same energy, the same enthusiasm the students before you have given to basketball. I’ll be very proud of you for doing that.”