More Seasons on the Brink

“This is about integrity,” proclaimed Indiana University president Myles Brand at the press conference announcing his basketball coach’s fate. He was speaking the truth. For, when Brand decided not to fire his good friend Bobby Knight, he was staying true to the university’s near 30-year trend of tolerating the coach’s intolerable behavior.

Knight has always had his volatile temper, and it’s gotten him noticed time and time again: when he reamed out an NCAA media liaison in full public view, when he mock-whipped Calbert Cheaney in a racially insensitive display, when he threw that chair across the Assembly Hall floor. Once it even got him in serious criminal trouble—in 1979, Knight was convicted (in absentia) of assaulting a Puerto Rican cop during the Pan Am Games—but he didn’t pay for his actions then either; authorities were never able to extradite him and stopped trying some years later.

“People in the university knew about Knight’s behavior for many, many years,” says Murray Sperber, the IU English professor, author, and longtime critic of the coach. “But he has the Knight Protection Racket. When one guy comes forward with allegations, five former players come forward to say he’s the best human being who ever lived.”

With recent events, however, things seemed different, as if long-lost chickens had come home to roost with a vengeance. Knight’s career was on the brink. A smoking-gun videotape, a near assault of a secretary, and suddenly, says Sperber, the once impenetrable Knight defense—he practices tough love, his wicked temper is reserved for the intensity of the sporting world, his ugly style is a winning one—looked like it had real holes.

Where was the love when Knight had his hand around Neil Reed‘s throat? What does throwing a potted plant and menacing athletic department secretary Jeanette Hartgraves have to do with the pressures of the playing field? “Where is the heat of combat in calling her an F-ing bitch?” Sperber asks rhetorically. “What does that have to do with the heat of combat?” And how do you rationalize a downright nasty coaching style when Knight’s teams haven’t been truly successful in 13 years?

Suddenly the IU administration, the local media, even some alumni, were shocked—shocked!—to discover they had a tyrant on their hands. But the tyrant will remain on campus. “This university is bleeding,” Sperber tells Jockbeat. “Their inability to resolve this might mean it’ll keep bleeding.”

A Devilish Defensive Plan

Some lessons from Sunday’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 1, and things to look for in the rest of the Devils-Flyers series: Philly has improved its team speed, a key ingredient to beating stubborn defenses. They effectively traded rushes with the Devs at the game’s outset, forcing Jersey into a skating game. Problem is, the Devils are probably quicker—and certainly better defensively.

With the game tied 1-1, Petr Sykora danced away from immobile Philly defenseman Chris Therien to backhand a stoppable shot between rookie goalie Brian Boucher‘s legs (“That’s the one I wish I could have back,” Boucher lamented after the game). Seconds later, Dan McGillis attempted a needless body check on Dev Randy McKay at the blueline. A similar challenge in the game’s first minute had led to the Devils’ opening goal as McGillis ended up decking teammate Simon Gagner by mistake. This time he got only air; McKay poked the puck to Sergei Brylin who fed Bobby Holik for an easy third Jersey goal. On both McGillis blunders, no Flyer forward covered for him. So the Devils, who did not play their best, began weaving their thick defensive blanket, which slowly smothered the Flyers’ speed.

If Jersey can exploit Philly’s defensive gaffes and take leads, they can neutralize the Flyers’ speed and make this a shorter series than many observers predicted. The Flyers might improve as the series progresses, but so might the Devils, and they seem capable of playing any style of hockey that opponents throw at them. That trait wins championships.



  • Think Rickey is the only one who doesn’t hustle? The most pathetic new trend in baseball involves umpires who can’t be bothered to sweep the plate and just kick the dirt off with their feet instead. Mark Hirschbeck spent an entire game cleaning the plate in this manner during a recent Mets-Marlins contest, prompting one fan at Shea to yell, “Bend over and clean it the right way, you lazy fuck!” . . .
  • John McMullen is getting out of the team-ownership business, but not before he does his part to feed the sports-industrial complex. The soon-to-be ex-Devils owner told Jockbeat that former political/personal friend Governor Christie Whitman is to blame for his selling out to the YankeeNets group. Whitman, you see, refused to pony up the dough for a new Devils venue in Hoboken. “I’m bailing out because you cannot make it without your own arena,” McMullen said. An arena, of course, that is paid for by taxpayers. McMullen, who will sign off on the sale once the Devils conclude their playoff run, seems to believe, like so many other owners, that such a deal is his birthright. But Whitman stood in the way—in the way of what McMullen called “the best [arena] concept in the United States.” It was doomed, he said, by Whitman’s “lack of government leadership.” But Whitman’s leadership will probably result in a publicly financed arena in Newark (for the Nets and Devils). That’s not our brand of political leadership either, but one taxpayer-paid-for arena is better than two. . . . * Final thought on both the Bobby and Rickey controversies: If it’s so obvious that Henderson had to go, why is it even debatable that Knight should stay?

    Contributors: Joanna Cagan, Stu Hackel, Paul Lukas, Evan Weiner, Ramona Debs

    Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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