Posted on: February 22, 2008 1:14 pm

The sadness of losing a hero

Odd thoughts while wondering whatever happened to Louis Lipps:

In my original comments, I spoke of my heroes growing up, Johnny U. and Mickey Mantle. I also was a huge fan of Wilt Chamberlain. As a child, my commitments were to these three players. Thus, I learned to hate the Packers, Red Sox, Dodgers and Celtics. Even with the great Hoosier basketball legend, Larry Bird, playing in Boston, I never got over my dislike for that franchise. Why? Well, my Colts and 76ers could never beat the Pack or Celts. The Red Sox and Dodgers were just natural Yankee rivals.

When each of these three men died, I was teary for a while. It's hard to lose a hero. At least these three men died in their own time, under mostly natural causes. Momluvs' hero was Roberto Clemente. While I was a great fan, he wasn't my 'guy'. I can only imagine how tough it had to be for younsters to deal with losing a man of his character who was still young.

There is another way to lose a hero. Through the falling off a pedestal. Robert Montgomery Knight became coach of the Indiana University men's basketball team during my sophomore year in high school. I loved his passion, insistance on discipline, mental approach to the game, and his relentless desire to play the game the right way no matter what the circumstances. I admired all those qualities. He had a way of getting the best out of the talent he surrounded himself with.

As a student at IU, I went to all the home games I could. The year after the first National Championship under Knight, we went 16-14. I went to every home game. There were no problems getting tickets that year. The bandwagon wasn't nearly as full. I admired Knight's passion, even when the team was depleted from a talent standpoint.

As I became a coach, I was a lot like Knight. I never tolerated laziness. I had few rules, but if you didn't follow them, you were punished. I was very demanding, but just like Knight, I applauded great effort. The one major difference was I never used off color language. I never understood why he felt that was necessary. I guess that was the first c-hink in the armour as far as my appreciation for him goes.

The following is a list of things I was able to overlook as Bobby just being Bobby:

  • About ripping off Jim Wisman's jersey
  • Stuffing the cop in Pureto Rico
  • Taking the jackass onto his TV show in the Purdue sweater
  • Ripping Chuck Marlow for not knowing anything about basketball (IU's basketball play by play guy)
  • Constant cursing
  • Ripping Dale Brown from LSU with an insult that I found funny as a young man
  • And there are many more

The most memorable for me is the chair throwing incident. I remember it vividly. I thought the officiating in the Big 10 had been execptionally bad that year. I threw a big pillow at the TV watching a Minnesota/Wisconsin game. Back to the chair....There was a scrum for a loose ball on the floor, and it went entirely too long. A jump ball should have been called, but finally, one of the guys from IU, in the middle of the pile, was called for a foul. I went balistic. So did Knight. I saw him turn towards the bench, and with God as my witness, I yelled at the TV, 'Throw the chair'. I had already emptied everything that was within arms reach of me. So, he picked up the chair and hurled it across the floor.......and the rest is history.

Most of us do things in the heat of battle that we are sorry for later (at least we type 'A's do.). But Knight was never sorry. I began to discover that he had a standard for others that he was unwilling to live up to himself. As time went on, I looked at each incident with him with an increasingly critical spirit. My hero was dying. Not because of him...but because I was growing up. I was learning the right way to go about life. That is why Animal House isn't as funny to me as a 52 year old as it was as  a 20 year old. It's still funny, just not fall off my chair funny.

My hero finally died for good during the NCAA postgame press conference. Some adminstrator had the nerve to tell the reporters that Knight wouldn't be attending. Knight appreared and asked the kid if he or anyone from IU had told him that he (Knight) would not be there. The reply was no. As the guy tried to explain, he looks at the guy and says 'no, you f#$%ed this up to start with. He then turned to the group of reporters and went on with his press conference.

While I will argue that Bob Knight's good outweighs his bad by a huge margin, I could no longer look the other way at the character flaws that he displayed. He displayed them without any sort of remorse.

We are all flawed. But to flaunt our flaws in defiance of authority is a character flaw that I cannot accept. You can't be a 'my way or the highway' kind of guy, and not respect the authority of those you report to. To act that way is the ultimate hypocricy.

Losing a hero any way is tough, but I grieved much more losing one by choice, that losing one to the end of earthly life. I guess it's kind of like a divorce. With death, you know it will eventually come, but divorce isn't part of the natural order.

Now, my university is faced with another sticky decision. Kelvin Sampson seems unable or unwilling to play by the rules. He came to IU under a cloud of scrutiny. He will leave the same way. I'll not bore you with the details...they are well chronicled. The rumor is that his players might boycott of he is let go.

I understand their plight. Their leader is on the verge of termination. The leader they've rallied around is threatened. But, it is the responsibility of the adults in charge to make sure that they show these young men that it is unacceptable to not keep your word. Sampson promised not to be in this position again, yet here he is. The life lesson these young men will learn supercedes any basketball lessons going on.

Regardless of how this turns out, there are some people out there losing a hero today. And I grieve for them. I wish it could be different, but a harsh reality of life will play itself out today.

Take care.

Category: NCAAB
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