Bobby Knight Is Donald Trump's Spirit Animal
Indiana is a test Tuesday for two men whose charm offensive has been light on "charm," heavy on "offensive": Donald Trump and Bobby Knight, a narcissistic bully whom Trump brought back to the state to campaign for him.
If Trump wins the Hoosier State, the Republican presidential campaign is over; he'll be the nominee. Knight, the former Indiana basketball coach who was fired in 2000 after abusing students and players, would see it as a vindication, proof of his continuing popularity in Indiana.
I couldn't stop thinking about Trump and Knight this weekend as I read John Feinstein's compelling book about college basketball, "The Legends Club."
Feinstein, one of America's best and most prolific sports journalists, writes about the three coaches who dominated the crazed North Carolina scene in the 1980s: the University of North Carolina's Dean Smith, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina State's Jim Valvano.
These three knew how to get results; Smith and Krzyzewski, along with John Wooden, are the greatest college basketball coaches ever. Knight got results as well, winning three NCAA championships. But the quality of their character couldn't be more different. In contrast to the boorish and mean-spirited Knight, these two are still revered at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, role models for many.
Smith, who died last year, was championing racial integration in North Carolina as long ago as the 1950s. Active in his church, he fought for civil rights, human rights and gun control while dominating Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. Feinstein poignantly captures Krzyzewski telling his former rival Smith, who was dying: "What you've done as a person is so much more important than basketball."
Krzyzewski at Duke has become in the last several decades what Smith was in the prior generation -- a legend. Feinstein chronicles a compassionate side, comforting Valvano in his final months, at his side when he died in 1993. Coach K -- easier to spell -- runs leadership forums at Duke and will be the commencement speaker this month.
Consider the contrast with Knight. He once threw a chair across the court angered by an official's call. He was charged with assaulting a police officer. He threw a vase at a secretary. He choked a player and lied about it until a video surfaced. He once said: "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." He finally was fired after he grabbed a student who he thought didn't show him proper respect.
These outbursts of id and anger sound quite familiar this year, as Americans have watched Donald Trump take down his enemies unrepentantly. Knight's comment about rape fits the misogynistic theme of many of Trump's remarks about women.
Often petulant and petty, Knight refused to return to Indiana to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1976 championship team. (Remember when Trump skipped a Fox News debate after his spat with Fox host Megyn Kelly?) But Knight came back to barnstorm with Trump last week. The candidate hailed this as "the greatest endorsement in the history of Indiana."
It will be a triumph for both of them if Trump fares well at the polls Tuesday. A triumph, but far from redemption.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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