THE GREAT DICTATOR
ESPN’s dramatization of John Feinstein‘s A Season on the Brink made little sense dramatically or journalistically. In fact, the movie—filmed on the cheap in Winnipeg, Canada—is such a mess on so many levels that the usually serviceable and sometimes quite good Brian Dennehy is embarrassing in an effort to portray college basketball’s enfant terrible, Bobby Knight. In Dennehy’s defense, he’s like an adequate player brought down by lousy teammates and bad coaching. When the writing, directing, and acting are this bad, the less said the better. Not more than two minutes of the 96-minute running time ring true.
The issue that’s much more compelling than some phony dramatization is how Knight, whose Texas Tech outfit is 23-8 and earned an NCAA tournament sixth seed after being picked by some to finish last in the Big Twelve, can continue to succeed in a culture that presumably makes his coaching style increasingly anachronistic.
No one’s less of a hip-hop coach than Knight. Basketball’s street sensibility has so infused pop culture with playground argot that people who’ve never played a pickup game now casually apologize, “My bad.” The beginnings of 21st-century basketball/pop style were percolating long ago in the increasing democratization of college sports player-coach relations. In his 1986 introduction to Feinstein’s book, the late Al McGuire wrote a fitting epitaph for Knight, calling him “the last of the great coaching dictators” and “the last of a breed.”
If Knight was a bit of a relic in 1986, he should be mummified by now. But when it seemed that the game had passed by the aging bullies like fellow troglodyte Woody Hayes, Knight continued to flourish. And his chief acolyte, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, molded at Knight’s knee as a point guard at West Point, will soon succeed his mentor to the throne as the active coach with the most national championships.
Consider that the second and third generations (Coach K’s progeny) are now approaching critical mass as dozens of former Knight assistants and managers continue to spread throughout the coaching pool. At least the second and third generations seem a little more relaxed than the paterfamilias. But for Knight himself, the most educable player is a post-traumatic true believer. “Sometimes, you just have to intimidate a kid,” as he’s quoted in Feinstein’s book. “It sets up the best conditions for teaching him.”
There’s enough totalitarian rigor and vigor here to make Hannah Arendt start taking notes from the grave. But for all of the noteworthy and cautionary implications inherent in Knight’s teaching and coaching, more progressive sports fans tend to be blinded by Knight, as have a whole flock of liberal journalists. Maybe it’s because sportswriters aren’t typically confronted by hyper-intelligent and historically knowledgeable madmen with enough charisma to lead masses.
Like a good dictator, Knight can even excoriate his followers and still get them to remain obedient, as his loyalists are to this day. All is forgiven, even an incident we witnessed back in 1994 in Bloomington, in which the hometown choir booed him during a game for kicking his son.
“You cocksucking motherfuckers!” he apoplectically raged at the top of his lungs. “Fuck you! You sons of bitches! Fuck you!” He and his loyal fans deserve each other.
THE CHOKE’S ON YOU
Maybe someday Bobby Knight will learn to make his points a little more quietly, like ex-Net Stephon Marbury. With last week’s Nets-Suns game in Phoenix on the line—Marbury’s Suns led by two with four-tenths of a second left—Keith Van Horn (not exactly Marbury’s favorite ex-teammate) went to the foul line for two shots. Marbury was standing nearby. As weak in his head as he is in his upper body, Van Horn missed his first one, dooming the Nets. “I had a feeling he was going to miss it,” Starbury told reporters after the game. “I just had a gut feeling.”
But exactly what he said to Van Horn after the miss didn’t make it into the dailies. A source who was courtside in Phoenix told Jockbeat that right after Van Horn’s choke, Marbury told him, “I knew you’d miss it, motherfucker.”
You think North Carolina basketball coach Matt Doherty had a bad year? Just because his team was 8-20, the worst season in school history? No, Nike is having a solidly profitable year, and that’s who Doherty really works for. Apart from a $28.34 million contract between the company and the university that starts this July, Doherty will get $500,000 a year directly from Nike, three times his annual $160,000 salary from the school.
If Doherty were paid in rupiah, the currency in which Nike’s 70,000 Indonesian workers are paid, he’d be hauling in 5 billion rupiah a year (the exchange rate is roughly 10,000 rupiah per U.S. dollar). But, hey, Nike’s Indonesians get raises, too. The last time Nike made a big public deal of hiking the pay of its Indonesian workers was 1999, when it decided to increase entry-level wages for footwear workers from 14 cents to 15 cents an hour.
CONTRIBUTORS: LEE DANIEL LEVINE, WARD HARKAVY
SPORTS EDITOR: WARD HARKAVY