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Scott Ostler

It Wasn't the Soviets Who Walked Out

November 24, 1987|Scott Ostler

Being a regional snob, my pride hurts when some other part of the country out-L.A.s Los Angeles.

Example: We are the drive-through capital of the world--banks, burger joints, photo stands, dairies, dry cleaners, etc. But some genius in Florida not long ago beat us to the first drive-through funeral parlor, giving new meaning to the term jack-in-the-box.

And now we've been outdone at one of our specialties by Bob Knight, Indiana's basketball dictator.

One thing at which L.A. natives have always excelled is leaving ballgames early.

But now we're small-timers compared to Knight. At a basketball game in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday night, Knight not only left the game early, he took his whole team with him.

He got three technical fouls, and when the refs ordered Knight to leave the gym, he did, with his Hoosiers. He crooked his index finger and the players followed him obediently. You have to wonder what will happen if Knight ever gets sent to jail. Will the entire team go along, forming the world's most disciplined chain gang?

It's not clear exactly what was said when Bob Knight and the Pipps took a hike Saturday. The exchange probably went something like this:

Knight: "Gosh, comrades, it's getting late, and my kids have early classes. We've really got to run, so we can catch last call at the campus malt shop. Let's do this again some time. Thanks for having us over."

Soviet Coach: "But this is your gym, no?"

Knight: "Oh, right, right. Well, make yourselves at home. Don't worry about sweeping the floor, we have a man who comes in. The bath towels are in the hall closet. Help yourself to the Gatorade, and turn out the lights."

Were the Soviet visitors offended? Nobody knows, because the Soviet coach wouldn't talk with the press and wouldn't let his players talk. They are part of a repressive, totalitarian regime. It's modeled after Knight's.

Knight issued an apology Sunday.

"I apologize to our fans," he said.

Now, examine that quote closely. Notice anything missing? Like maybe an apology to the Soviet team?

The Indiana fans don't need an apology. They love this kind of stuff. If they go to a game and Knight doesn't throw a chair or slap one of his own players around, the fans figure they got cheated. It's like going to watch John McEnroe when all he does is play tennis.

How did Knight's superiors at the university react? Stupid question. He doesn't have any.

Said Haydn Murray, the school's faculty representative and member of the IU Athletics Committee: "I have no idea if any action will be taken, but I wouldn't be in favor. Let well enough alone."

Those italics are mine, in case your morning coffee hasn't kicked in.

Do you ever get the impression that when Bob Knight clears his throat, the entire state of Indiana leaps about a foot in the air?

What Knight did to the Soviets wasn't so bad, by his lofty standards. He could have been real ugly. The potential is always there. He has all the tools.

Knight punched a cop in Puerto Rico, insulted his interpreter at the Olympics, and now he walks out on his Soviet visitors. Does he get up in the morning and say to himself, "Let's see, are there any hemispheres I haven't provoked lately?"

This latest incident was understandable. Knight is angry about U.S. teams playing the Soviet national team, since these games will help prepare the Soviets for the 1988 Olympics. Knight and Georgetown's John Thompson see this as a mild form of treason.

I'm opposed to shipping bombs and missile warheads to the Soviet Union, even in the interests of brotherhood. But helping the Soviet hoopsters improve their jump shots seems a fairly harmless act of kindness. The Soviets will probably reciprocate, maybe invite our female hammer throwers over to the Ukraine for some clinics with Soviet beefettes.

The least we can do is try not to start a war over a questionable call by a basketball official. World leaders being the edgy, emotionally unstable guys they are, the fewer things we can do to provoke their anger and resentment, the better. I doubt that anyone would nuke the United States just because of a rude basketball coach, but who knows?

Personally, I enjoy Knight's theatrical shtick, but I don't think I'm ready to die for it.

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