After 13 years, I return to Assembly Hall

Bob Knight hasn't come back to IU. I have.

Alford and Knight in Bloomington, January 2000 (AP photo)
Alford and Knight in Bloomington, January 2000 (AP photo)

The headline refers to Indiana University's Assembly Hall. I've been to the one in Champaign several times in the last 13 years.

Why I haven't been to an Iowa-Indiana game in Bloomington since 2000, I'm not sure. Well, I'm actually pretty sure.

One, we at The Gazette drive to that game. In winter. It's a long drive from Cedar Rapids. It will be a long drive today. It's also a long drive home.

But the Hoosiers are good again. They lead the Big Ten and are ranked No. 1 in the nation, in fact.

Two, there haven't been a lot of Hawkeyes-Hoosiers games in Bloomington that have been overly meaningful since 2000. But that one sure was. It was the first time Steve Alford had coached a game in the gym where he played for four years.

There was so much interest in Alford's return to Bloomington that he held a press conference there the night before the Tuesday evening game.

"One of my assistants, Brian Jones, asked me how far it is to Assembly Hall from the airport," Alford said at the time. And I said, 'If you really want to know, I can remember walking back from the airport. It depends if you mean by vehicle or by leg.' "

Bob Knight was Alford's coach. Knight coached Indiana in 2000, near the end of his run there. A run that ended with his dismissal.

Knight was miffed Alford held a press event. He said so at his postgame press conference the following night, after his team's 74-71 victory.

Said Knight: "If Alford wants to sit down and talk to me instead of holding press conferences about a lot of bull____, I'll be glad to sit down and talk to him and explain things to him a little bit. If that's what, in fact, he wants to do instead of go through a lot of bull____, most of which has not happened in press conferences."

Knight had anger issues then. He still does, if you go by this Q & A with him that showed up on the New York Times website Friday:

An excerpt: When I first started coaching, one of the worst things that I think I heard was “It will be O.K.” I would wonder, How the hell is it going to be O.K.? The worst word in the English language is “hope.”

I wonder what the second-worst word in the English language might be. "Love?" "Kindness?" "Puppies?"

Knight was agitated about everything after that game, it seemed. He railed on Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick. He stomped out of the press conference twice, only to return to the media room both times before his final departure.

The Alford-Knight "reunion" was played up big on national radio. It was a big story in that Tuesday's USA Today. They were seated 20 feet apart at the Big Ten's pregame basketball press day in Chicago, and that was brought up time after time. Which really ticked off Knight.

"One more thing I'm tired of," Knight said in his first return to the press room. "When I went to that god____ Big Ten meeting up in Chicago, and there are 10 other coaches there and I had a chance to speak to a total of three. So there were seven I didn't speak to, didn't get a chance to speak to.

"If I've got the chance to speak to somebody, I speak to 'em. What about the other six guys I never had a chance to speak to, either?

"I'm tired of the bull____ that was made out to be for not speaking to one guy."

But you were near Alford in Chicago, it was pointed out to Knight.

"He's 20 feet away and I'm surrounded by people," Knight said as he made his second curtain call. "I was sitting right next to somebody else, too.

"Then why doesn't he come speak to me if it's such a god____ offense?"

Making the night all the more peculiar, Knight sneaked up on the then first-year Iowa coach before the tip-off, coming from the visiting team's entrance to greet him on the sideline.  The two shook hands and had what sure seemed like a warm exchange, albeit brief.

That turned out to be Knight's last season as Indiana's coach. He was fired eight months after this game, the last straw being when a 19-year old IU freshman addressed Knight by saying "Hey, Knight, what's up?" during a chance meeting on campus. Knight grabbed Harvey's arm and lectured him, scolding him for not calling him "Coach Knight" or "Mr. Knight."

It was quite a year in Bloomington.

That was three coaches ago for the Hoosiers, two for the Hawkeyes. Now Tom Crean runs the IU program, and is doing so with acceptance after his first three seasons were brutal. Indiana came back to basketball prominence last season, and this year they have as good a chance as anyone to go deep in the NCAA tournament.

Alford is now at New Mexico, having long since healed his rift with Knight. In fact, Knight encouraged him to look at the New Mexico job in 2007 when Alford's welcome had worn out at Iowa. Knight was at Texas Tech at the time, having found his own sanctuary. Although, Knight walked away from that job in midseason the following year. He later moved into a color commentator's role at ESPN, but now he's apparently at the end of that rope.

Alford has found a happy place at New Mexico. He's on the verge of his fourth Mountain West Conference regular-season title in six years. The Lobos take a 24-4 record into their home game against Wyoming today.

Iowa has Fran McCaffery, trying to find a way to get his 18-win team to pull a stunning upset tonight. Indiana has Crean, who has shown big basketball things happen in Assembly Hall when you can keep Indiana's top prep players like Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell to stay in the state, and bring in some studs from other states, like Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Will Sheehey.

In October 2011, Crean said this:

"I would hope Bob Knight knows he has a 365-day invitation to come back," Crean said by phone. "For him to come back, that’s totally up to him. I wouldn’t hesitate in welcoming him back -- there's no question about that. And if we knew he was coming back, I’d be running out there opening the doors.”

"Obviously I don’t have any interest in going back, or I would have, it’s that simple," Knight said in that New York Times interview.I think it's finally safe for me to return. But man, it's a long drive.