While he accomplished many incredible feats over his multi-decade long career, including coaching the last team to go undefeated and win the National Championship in 1976, there are some trademarks that will forever stand out as being quintessentially Bob Knight: Indiana University, a red sweater, and an over the top, fiery personality.
I mean, I’d say the average sports fan thinks of him chucking a chair across the court in protest nearly once a week…
For a basketball coach, one of the greatest honors you can attain is being selected as head coach of the men’s Olympic team, which Knight did in 1984.
In typical Bobby Knight style, he caused some waves early in that process by cutting future NBA Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and John Stockton, but he was still able to put together a stellar roster, making sure to anchor the team around a 21 year old named Michael Jordan.
At the time, the AP quoted Knight speaking on just how incredible he thought Michael Jordan was.
“If we’re going to pick the three or four best athletes I’ve ever seen play basketball, he (Jordan) would be one of them. I think he’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen play basketball, bar none.
In the categories of competitiveness, ability, skill and then athletic ability, he’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players. That to me makes him the best basketball player that I’ve ever seen play.”
That was obviously high praise, but he didn’t let those feeling stop him from ripping into him to set the tone in the locker room when he deemed it necessary.
He spoke about this onstage, and while I can’t find details on exactly what the event was, Knight began telling a story of how MJ handled Knight’s antics during a halftime of the Gold Medal game against Spain, and it’s both classic Jordan and Knight all in one great story.
He tells it like this…
“I walked into the locker room after the first half of our game with Spain in 1984 for the Gold Medal. We’re ahead by 29 points, we’ve played basketball as well as the game could be played.
Michael Jordan has played 12 minutes out of the 20. He has 11 rebounds, 9 assists, and 19 points in 12 minutes. In my opinion, there’s nobody that’s ever played anything that can compare to Michael Jordan , with the possible exception of Jack Nicholas and Babe Ruth. Michael Jordan is just the best there ever was at what he does by a considerable margin.”
He goes on to talk about how he believes the best three minutes of game for the team had to be the first ones after halftime, but didn’t exactly know what to say to the guy considering they were absolutely slaughtering Spain. I mean, up 29 at half? How does it get better than that?
That’s when he came up with a plan that he was sure would get all the guys thinking about how they could improve: Go at Michael Jordan.
“I’m gonna get on Jordan’s ass a little bit and everyone else is going to say “God, if he’s upset with Jordan how’s he feel about me?” …
I have the stat sheet in my hand and I walk over in front of Jordan and I look down at him and I say “Mike, when the hell are you going to set a screen? We’ve got 4 guys out there screening when you’re in the game, screening to get you open, screening to get each other open, haven’t seen you set a screen yet.
The only way I get all 5 guys screening, Mike, is to get you the hell out of the game. Now when are you going to set a screen? All you’ve been doing so far, goddammit, is rebounding, passing, and scoring, you need to screen Mike!”
Now Jordan, you’ve all seen the grin, I mean it’s the greatest grin in the world. He doesn’t quite use all of the grin in this circumstance, but he looked up at me and he grins a little bit and he says “Coach, didn’t I see last week when you said that I was the quickest player you’d ever been around?”
And I said “Mike, what the hell does that got to do with you screening?”
“Coach, I think I’m setting them quicker than you can see them out there.”
I mean, come on, if that’s not the greatest answer you can give to the faux tirade Knight was putting on I don’t know what was.
Sure, he inflated Jordan’s stats a bit and the US was actually up 31 at halftime according to RealGM, but the point stands and proves that Bob Knight was able to find anything to get players fired up about and also that Michael Jordan really is who everyone says he is.
As you’d expect, the US finished out the game and took home the Gold medal with a 96-65 victory.
Rest in peace to the great Bob Knight. For all of his flaws, there’s no doubt that he was one of the greatest sports leaders of all-time and that we could all learn something from him to take with us in our lives.
With Bob Knight passing away it’s almost a must to watch his speech where he talks about trying get on Michael Jordan’s ass in the locker room. An absolute classic! RIP pic.twitter.com/U8lh0L0JmV