BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Life went on without Bob Knight Tuesday night. Quite nicely, as a matter of fact.
There really was no choice. It is mid-November. The trees are bare, skies are gray, the video of choice is "Hoosiers," and the term most often used on local radio is "wind-chill factor."
It is basketball season and there was a game to play.
But this was not a normal opening game, and not only because the opponent, Pepperdine, knocked Indiana out of the first round of the NCAA tournament in March. That was a sidelight, an afterthought. In this game, no matter what happened, the Waves were to be the Washington Generals.
They played the role perfectly, losing, 80-68, in the Preseason National Invitation Tournament to a team of grim-faced Hoosiers who have been to hell and back since they were last spotted, badgered and beaten and slouching off into the safe harbor of their locker room in Buffalo, N.Y.
Since then, Indiana's basketball program--a time bomb for many years--exploded. Knight, either the patron saint or reigning devil--depending on who you talk to--had been fired by a university president who finally poured water on his coach's ever-simmering short fuse.
A program that had brought this school three NCAA titles and 11 Big Ten titles since Knight arrived in 1971 became a source of embarrassment and national scrutiny. It had moved from the sports pages to the editorial pages, from headlines that once proclaimed championships to headlines that screamed about Indiana's history of handling each Knight transgression with taps on the knuckle.
So the community of Indiana basketball fans had only since Sept. 10--the day President Myles Brand fired Knight--to get ready for the rest of their lives.
They arrived Tuesday night in numbers smaller than the norm, an attendance of 12,025 in an arena that seats 17,724 and almost always needs every one of those seats for the demand. Many fans entered with a deer-in-the-headlights look in their eyes. Bob Hammel, longtime sports editor and columnist for the Bloomington Herald-Times, called it "stunned indifference."
They seemed uncertain of what to expect, but they knew that the news was certainly not who won or lost, or how they played the game. No, the news was who they played the game without.
Shortly before 7 p.m., a coach not named Knight settled into the Indiana coach's seat, a spot that had been Knight's domain forever in Assembly Hall. The building had opened in December 1971, with a new coach who had played on the great Jerry Lucas-John Havlicek teams at Ohio State and had already begun to build a reputation as a great basketball mind and a tough customer. Fittingly, he had made his mark, pre-Indiana, at Army.
With the exception of a suspension or two along the way, Knight had been the only one to sit in that seat for 29 seasons, more than 400 home games.
Tuesday night, somebody else sat in the bully pulpit. But it was only a chair now, and new Coach Mike Davis didn't even consider throwing it.
Seldom has a new coach stepped into a spotlight this bright with such uncertainty of mandate or future. He had been an assistant for three years under Knight. Yet with the new responsibility came only the title of interim. He was welcome to stay in the guest house, but he couldn't use the good towels.
Knight always has been one of those figures in sport who polarizes. Nobody who cares enough to pay attention is indifferent about him.
His history of basketball excellence--coaching and teaching and running one of the truly rare clean programs in the sport--has been fodder for thousands of broadcasts and millions of column inches.
So has his behavior.
He has taken on police in Puerto Rico, referees all over the world, his players on the practice court, and, as recently as this summer, university lawyers in his office. He loves a dozen or so sportswriters to whom he would give the shirt off his back. He hates 20 times that number from whom he would tear the shirts off theirs.
He has driven thousands of miles to help friends or to do charity work. He has also made wisecracks about rape on network television. On Monday, he is sensitive, gentle. On Tuesday, he has the manners of Atilla the Hun.
When Brand fired him, most of the interested outside world of fans and media nodded in a sort of agreement that said: It's about time. On campus, students were furious, stopping from rioting only when Knight himself came out, moved the police behind him outside Assembly Hall, and calmed the crowd by promising them an extended goodbye speech in a few days. When he delivered on that promise two days later in an area near here called Dunn Meadow, an estimated 10,000 showed up to carry on their idolization.