Knight Moves

The legendary coach/loudmouth has fallen at last. But let’s be clear: To the people of Bloomington, Indiana, Bobby Knight is a martyr—done in by a skewed take on what was really a benign incident. Hey, coach said so himself; his Friday press conference laid out his point of view: Yes, he touched the youngster, Kent Harvey, but never cursed at him or even raised his voice.

Call us cynical, but Jockbeat is inclined to believe the kid’s account. His description of a kung-fu gripping, in-yer-face-profanity-screaming Knight makes more sense to us. There are many reasons for our skepticism—not least a fascinating videotape that came our way a few years ago. Outtakes of a local TV golf show Knight used to cohost, the tape is a dark, disturbing series of vignettes that could have been scripted by David Mamet. Horrifyingly hilarious, Knight rarely utters a sentence devoid of invective (a commonly heard mantra, following each hook or slice, is “fuckmemotherfuckercocksuckersonofabitchshit”) as he berates the crew, makes lame jokes that betray a vague obsession with matters scatological and masturbatory, and hurls golf clubs with impunity as a frightened pro looks on. At one point, video technicians superimpose a thermometer with mercury rapidly rising as an incensed Knight goes from low-grade lava-gushing to full-blown eruption.

And speaking of eruptions, the basketball riots that swept the IU campus Sunday night don’t bode well for Harvey and his stepfather-Knight critic, Mark Shaw. Longtime anti-Bobby booster and Indiana English professor Murray Sperber had to flee the country in light of threats after Knight almost lost his job in May (the academic is on sabbatical in Canada). And as effigies (of Harvey and university president Myles Brand) burned, area cops were overheard talking among themselves, ruefully saying that Shaw should plan on leaving the state.

Get Your Kosher Hot Dogs Here!

It’s a digestible enough idea that the Mets host an annual Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium (along with Irish, Italian, and other ethnic pride fests). But will we soon be hearing the Hebrew equivalent—kan felafel!—during Liberty games at MSG? Will the team be hosting an Israel Bond Dinner? Jockbeat wonders as it watches the roster flock to the Holy Land at a rate that would make the American Aliyah Center jealous.

Fiery guard Becky Hammon will play for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the October-to-April Israeli season, while Tamika Whitmore will mix it up down low for Elizur Holon. Both are making their first forays overseas after two years in the WNBA—a trend that is increasing among rookies who can now go right from college into the pros but still need to make ends meet when the paltry summer salaries run out (WNBAers make up to $60,000 in Israel—often more than they’re paid back home). Meanwhile, vets Vickie Johnson and Sue Wicks are contemplating returns to Zion, where each has racked up some of the most stellar stats in the 10-team league.

According to Rachel Ostrowitz, chairperson of team Ramat HaSharon, “Israel is becoming a haven for WNBA players. They feel at home here. . . . TV stations have their favorite programs in English, the restaurants are probably even better than the ones in New York, and Tel Aviv is indeed the city that never sleeps.” Each Israeli team is allowed three foreign players, and one must come from Eastern Europe, but the U.S. players provide most of the points.

And the sport may be increasing in local importance. After all, when Madeleine Albright wanted peace negotiators to relax at Camp David in July, she suggested they play basketball. Two mixed teams were chosen, though Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak sat out.

As for their own sense of the peace process, Liberty players have little to say. “I don’t really know anything about it,” shrugs Hammon. And Whitmore opines, “I’m a religious person. I figure it’s in God‘s hands.” So is she excited about living in the historic land of Jesus? “Not really,” she says. “The only place I’m ever excited to go is a basketball court.”

Punch Drunk

If indeed, as speculation seems to suggest, it turns out that free-agent-to-be Mike Hampton chooses not to stay with the Mets, those poor plastic water coolers he’s pummeled several times this season might not be the only ones breathing a gurgling sigh of relief. While the calendar says that Hampton turned 28 over the weekend, after watching the supposed staff ace’s reaction to serving up a game-winning home run to the Phillies’ Scott Rolen on Friday, maybe the Mets should have taken Mikey to Chuck E. Cheese’s to revive his birthday spirits. It wasn’t just his “When the going gets tough, the tough throw tantrums” outburst in the dugout, either. After the game, Hampton sat at his locker, red faced and bleary eyed under a pushed-down cap, answering reporters’ questions in the kind of whispery voice Dr. Spock would probably deem “post-punishment shame-defiance syndrome.”

Told that manager Bobby Valentine said he preferred emotions being displayed by players before things happen rather than afterward, Hampton just shrugged his already hunched-up shoulders and kept fuming. “I never regret it,” he said. “That’s me. I’m not going to act some way to impress anybody. It’s September, and I hate to lose, period.” As such, it most likely wouldn’t have done any good to point out to Hampton that the Mets still had two at-bats left after he was removed from the game, and that, while his night may have been over, his team’s wasn’t. Then again, being yanked from the mound in mid-inning ensured that even if the Mets had come back for a victory, Hampton wouldn’t have been the winning pitcher. And a guy looking for free-agent gazillions needs his wins, right?

Contributors: Jason Vest, Alisa Solomon, Billy Altman
Sports Editor:
Miles D. Seligman