One of his most beloved former players had written him a heartfelt open letter appealing to him to set aside his grudge and return to the school he built into a national power.
To the surprise of nobody, the plea wasn’t enough.
Bob Knight did not attend A.J. Guyton’s induction into Indiana’s athletic hall of fame Friday night, nor did the legendary coach acknowledge the former Big Ten player of the year’s request that he use the occasion as a chance to reconcile with his former school. In the 14 years since Indiana controversially fired Knight, he has never returned to the school he led to five Final Fours and three national championships.
If Knight passed on the chance to accept Guyton’s invitation, it’s certainly fair to wonder whether he’ll ever appear in Bloomington again. Guyton’s 1,129-word letter emphasized that a reconcilation between Knight and Indiana would be the only way to ease the tension for former players torn between showing loyalty to their coach and their school.
“Without you, Coach Knight, the relationships are strange at IU,” Guyton wrote. “We are accepted and appreciated but there’s a mission to “move on” from us. You’re the only person who can make everything right & bridge this gap. It’s not about the former administration, it’s about the players you created [who] are in limbo, stuck in between. We are all experiencing various successes but not knowing how to include IU basketball.
“I’m certainly not asking anyone to apologize for anything. I’m simply extending a public invitation for you to do ME a favor, attend the induction ceremony on November 7th, it would mean the world to me as a former player and supporter. For you to come see the young professional you’ve helped create. I believe it’s time, i believe the time is now.”
The hostility between Knight and Indiana stems from the way school administrators placed him on a “zero-tolerance policy” late in his tenure and used a series of off-the-court incidents as an excuse to force him out in Sept. 2000.
Knight had always been a polarizing figure in Bloomington, revered by some for leading Indiana to 661 wins and maintaining a near-perfect graduation rate and reviled by others for his chair throwing antics and violent temper. The final straws for former Indiana president Myles Brand included an Indiana freshman accusing Knight of grabbing him by the arm in response to being greeted by his last name and ex-player Neil Reed alleging the iconic coach choked him during practice.
The bitter divorce created an ever-widening schism among those who supported Indiana and those loyal to Knight. It didn’t help when Indiana security removed fans clad in homemade “Bring Back Bobby” T-Shirts in Feb. 2008. Or when Ohio State played a taped message from Knight before a game against Indiana in Feb. 2013 in which the Buckeyes alum declared, “I used to coach a little bit, and there’s nothing better than Ohio State basketball.”
Those incidents explain why Guyton admitted prior to Friday’s ceremony that it was “a long shot” Knight would show up. Nonetheless, he tweeted late Friday night he hasn’t given up hope.
What does that cryptic tweet mean? Could Guyton have heard Knight might be planning a return to Indiana for sometime in the future? Perhaps, but I’m skeptical.
If the emotional plea of a revered former player didn’t get Knight to put aside his bitterness, what will?
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