Generation-Y 1, Bob Knight 0

by February 06, 2008

By Vincent Thomas

Shaq might get sent to the Suns?! For real?! If that happens, it’d represent a serious and shocking ideological shift for the pioneers of an ideology that has shaped the current NBA. Ambiguous, I know, but we’ll get into that once/if this trade happens.

The ideas and modus operandi that would get chopped and ground and spat out, were Shaq to rock that pansy Purple & Pink Suns jersey (pink, not orange) would be almost as metaphoric and profound as The General’s retirement from the bourgeoisie ranks of college basketball. The proletariats won.

Bob Knight’s retirement is symbolic of a much grander ideological tug-o-war that is now over. In fact, it’s been over for years now, but Bob Knight — perhaps sports most stubborn SOB — was the only fool on the other side of the mud pool, digging in, pulling and yanking his principles-obsessed heart out. Bob Knight was a last bastion; an arrogant, screwball champion for the Old Guard. Some of his peers had morphed and reinvented and progressed and bent with the forces of new times and different thinking. Knight’s approach never changed and his retirement was a white-flag. Youth Culture won. The players changed college basketball as much as college basketball changed the players. One old grouch couldn’t halt/counteract a collective generation’s approach to life and/or a New America’s approach to youth. Knight thought the sheer magnitude of his deluded grandeur and the deep goodness of his code and principles would win out, because he was Bobby Knight and conviction was supposedly his strongest weapon. In response, the kids basically said, “This ain’t the Army, Old Man. And it ain’t the 60s or 70s or 80s or even 90s, for that matter, so you better get your arthritic, rigor mortis fingers to texting me a love letter, or I’m going to K-State to play ball for gangster…And Momma needs a new Land Rover while you’re at it.”

When Knight arrived at Texas Tech in 2001, he spouted a bunch of self-righteous, melodramatic, rah-rah malarkey that teemed with mock-humility and hypocrisy. He spoke of how he was in Lubbock, Texas now and his regime would restore order to this small pocket of college athletics. He was going to strip the names off the back of the players’ jerseys, because it was about the institution and the game, not the individuals. But, in actuality, it was usually about one individual – Bobby Knight. What he didn’t know is that that trash wasn’t going to work, anymore. Lubbock wasn’t Bloomington and 2001 wasn’t 1981.

I consider my generation to be anyone that graduated from high school in the 90s. I also believe that my generation was the last crop of youths with an upbringing that could prepare one to even slightly process the hidden discipline of Knight’s manic act. We were Latch Key Kids, perhaps the first generation to begin raising ourselves – but it wasn’t as acute as this new generation. We may have been a generation raised in single-parent homes, but Big Momma and Grandpa and Grandma were still present. Very few of us had grandparents that still went to the bar/club on the weekend. Allen Iverson could appreciate the John Thompson style of coaching.

In Knight’s post-resignation interview with ESPN’s Jay Bilas, Knight said he would tell parents that he’s not the easiest guy to play for and if they had problems with his philosophies and style then, quite simply, they shouldn’t send their kids to play for him. I’m sure this was part of his pitch for decades, but it meant something different in recent years. And you know what? The kids didn’t come.

The new generation – the high school classes of the new millennium – grew up with different societal values, different family structures and, just as important, a totally different world of amateur basketball. This was a world that — from AAU to high school to the NCAA – was a straight-up capitalist machine. Knight was too noble and arrogant to be a cog in that machine. He had a ton of problems with this current incarnation of the NCAA. He hated what had become the status-quo practices on the recruiting trail and he despised the way this breed of athlete and public-opinion were encroaching on him being The Great Bob Knight. In so many of his public dealings, there was a conspicuous air of contempt. At this season’s infamous press conference, Knight ignored the media and rhetorically asked his babbling grandson something to effect of, “Who in this room knows anything about basketball, besides granddad?” Only his opinion mattered. Through no fault of his own, he seemed to be intimating, these young sucker-athletes, the pandering coaches, the overbearing parents, the jock-sniffing and quick-to-judge media and a host of other maggot entities had degenerated the sport that he shaped into some type of athletic ghetto inundated with punks and ran by rubes.

When they ran him out of Bloomington, he resurfaced at Texas Tech with the idiotic notion that he and his Old School MO were gonna force Texas Tech into national prominence and “the right way” was going to win this doomed battle of wills and morals he was essentially waging against every slick-ballin’ player, slick-talking coach and duplicitous or meddlesome AD. It was patently absurd for him to think this.

I guess Bruce Webber is a pansy. I guess Billy Donovan is a snake and Ben Howland is a shape-shifting zero riding teenage jocks. Seems like that’s what all of Knight’s posturing and self-congratulatory rhetoric wants us to believe. That these younger, more successful coaches have gotten the Final Four berths and championships and blue-chip floods because they compromised past a moral threshold that Knight was not willing to eclipse. Well, Thompson probably thought something very similar, same for John Chaney and Gene Keady and the rest of the Old Guard. They learned their lessons and had their epiphanies sooner. They weren’t obstinate or arrogant enough to go on. Knight was.

Many of these younger coaches do eat a lot of doo-doo during the recruiting process, chasing after these kids like a recently released felon chasing after skirts at Ladies Night. They’re about winning and keeping their jobs and endorsement deals. To me, they roll in the NCAA with an appropriate stride; because college basketball is a capitalist system and you’re better off keeping the workers happy, maybe even wooing them, if you have to. Knight had too much “honor” for that (read: pride), so talent went elsewhere and his business sucked. There’s not an ounce of humility in that old dude’s body. Haughtiness was always at the root of this useless fight. He ended it, on Monday, with an ideological L.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Squire, Getty Images