It was comical to read and listen to all of the faux outrage this past week when the Indiana University student section chanted profanity at a Purdue basketball player.
Who knew that thousands of drunk college kids at a sporting event might lose their cool from time to time? Oh the humanity!
Was it a slow news week? Or perhaps some of the reporters hadn’t been around long enough to know first hand what a real spectacle looks like.
While certainly none of those derisive students on Tuesday night were there to see it, perhaps they were channeling a much more dramatic scene that took place in Assembly Hall against the same opponent nearly 34 years earlier.
Yes, on February 23, 1985, the former leader of their beloved team gave the sports world a truly transcendent moment.
With six fouls called on his team in the first five minutes of the game, Indiana’s head coach had seen enough.
Or perhaps he was just being a good Samaritan?
Whatever version of the story you believe, on that unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, the legend, or perhaps infamy of Robert Montgomery Knight reached previously unimaginable proportions.
Losers of six of their last nine games, those 1985 Hoosiers were reeling. Coming off the promise of a 1984 Elite Eight run that saw Indiana knock off Michael Jordan and No. 1 North Carolina, IU came into the year as a preseason top 10 team.
But this season had turned into a complete disappointment. And IU’s combustible head coach was seemingly at his tipping point.
After being called for a technical foul for arguing with the officials about those early whistles, Knight burst from that ill-fated chair and continued to roar his thunderous disapproval. Meanwhile, Purdue’s Steve Reid was preparing to shoot the technical free throw shots.
Seemingly unwilling to accept what was unfolding before him, Knight hurled the flimsy mass of metal legs and red plastic seat past Reid, across the free throw lane, and into a row of photographers.
But was it just a coincidence that furniture was sent sliding across the court after that technical foul?
Knight once playfully suggested on the David Letterman show that there was a much more noble intent behind his chair toss —
“People jump at conclusions automatically with the thing. But the game is going on, and I hear somebody across the floor keep hollering, ‘Coach! Coach! Coach Knight!’ And I get all kinds of suggestions; I try not to pay any attention to it. … Here’s a little old lady across the floor that reminded me of my grandmother. … And I said, ‘Did you want me for something?’ And she just said, ‘If you’re not going to sit down any more today than you have so far, could I have your chair?’”
Judge for yourself —
This was Bob Knight at the pinnacle of his career. The Hoosiers had won two national titles in the last ten years and they were considered an annual contender for a third — which they got two years later.
Knight was larger than life in Bloomington. The “General” was of course ejected from the game (after two more technical fouls), and although he had just done the unthinkable, he walked off the court to roars of “BOB-BY, BOB-BY!”
With Knight in the locker room and IU handicapped by a slow start and Purdue technical free throws, the Hoosiers would lose the game 72-63.
In an era today where profanity by college kids sparks national discussion, it is almost unimaginable that this incident resulted in a mere one game suspension for Knight. The three time national champion coach likely dropped enough f-bombs during his several minute long tirade to give the collective student section on Tuesday night a run for their money.
The real punishment for Knight was a season that continued to spiral out of control.
Indiana would go on to lose three of their final four games on the season, winning only the game that Knight missed. The Hoosiers would miss the NCAA Tournament but reached the finals of the NIT in New York. They lost there to UCLA and Reggie Miller.
Throughout the remainder of Knight’s tenure at Indiana, the chairs on the IU bench were connected to avoid a repeat occurrence.
Countless little old ladies were surely left standing as a result.
“Now that we know the full story,” Letterman responded to Knight, “You were doing the gentlemanly thing.”
Maybe, maybe not.
But if ever there was a truly noteworthy incident inside Assembly Hall when ancient rivals Purdue and Indiana met, it most certainly wasn’t on Tuesday night.
No, it was 34 years ago today — when Bob Knight showed the sports world what real outrage looks like with both his anger and his actions — chucking a chair into the annals of college basketball history.
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