Bob Knight: Life is gray

When I was a child I knew two things: going to church and following basketball.  God came first and Bobby Knight was God’s chosen representative for basketball on Earth.  I grew up at a time when the man in the red sweater stalked the sidelines of college basketball courts throughout the midwest and won games at a rate that made me proud to be a Hoosier.

Bob Kinght coached Indiana University men’s basketball from 1971-2000

To me, Knight was everything sports was supposed to be: teamwork, toughness, attention to detail, and winning.  His style was old-school, tough-nosed, and demanded intelligence and buying into a team concept. His methods weren’t without their detractors, even while he piled up wins and championships.

In 2000 Coach Knight was fired by Indiana University for violating a zero-tolerance policy on his behavior.  He’d had numerous ‘incidents’ through the years including him infamously putting his hands on a player’s neck.  In 2020 he went back to the arena where he hung three championship banners for the first time since he was fired.  The event marked closure of a period of bitterness that consumed someone for 20 years.

As I watched it unfold it brought back a flood of memories for me and it allowed me to appreciate the arc of the legendary basketball coach’s life and to see how I viewed him differently now that I am an adult versus how I viewed him as a child.  It showed me what a perfect character study he is for realizing just how much gray there is in this world.

The story of Bob Knight has been written in more detail than is appropriate for my little slice of the Internet.  He accomplished some incredible feats and always courted controversy.   There was the time that he threw the chair across the floor during a game, his philanthropic efforts, the time he assaulted a Puerto Rican policeman, players who love him, and numerous sound bites.  Many many quotes that were acerbically witty, and the outbursts…oh the outbursts that were legendary.

There were countless things that the coach did and said that would have you lauding him and equally as many that would leave you feeling appalled.  In short, Bob Knight is a complicated person.

As I watched the half-time ceremony where Coach Knight was honored a lot of memories hit me.  I also realized that those memories came from a time when I was a different person. A lot of those memories were formed when I saw the world in black and white, a time when if the good outweighed the bad then that made you a good person.  

It was a time when I was unable to hold the idea that there can be an amazing beautiful light in someone and also a nasty, abrasive, and cutting, dark side.  Watching the event unfold I suddenly found myself understanding what I had not previously realized. I saw the coach in two lights at once. I saw him as a bitter old man in poor health who looked a little pathetic.  And I also saw him as someone who genuinely loved the fans, players, and sport that he coached and wanted to connect again with it and let all of the bitterness that he’d accumulated be put to bed.

I witnessed myself feeling judgement and compassion in the same breath.

Many people are unable to hold two ideas in their minds at the same time and it causes problems for them.  It holds them back from success. It holds them back from creating space in their relationships to have empathy.  It precludes them from growing by keeping them close-minded.

Thinking that life is “black and white” and “good vs bad” is a juvenile point of view.  That’s not to say that it’s wrong, but it is to say that it isn’t a fully developed and mature paradigm.  Being an adult and developing an understanding of, and an appreciation for, the gray of life is important to becoming all that we can become.

Here are some ways you can cultivate your ability to hold competing ideas in your head.

  1. Meditate
  2. Journal
  3. Ask questions of people who have different viewpoints (listen, don’t just wait to speak)
  4. Don’t judge others.

By learning to embrace the gray areas of life you can free yourself from the suffering that judgement creates.