IN MARCH 2001, just before the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, Bob Knight received a call from an old friend, Texas Tech University athletic director Gerald Myers. It was hard to know who was more excited: the recently fired Knight, who had just endured his first winter in 38 years without a basketball team to coach, or Myers, who had just fired his coach and was giddy at the thought of having a chance to hire such a giant.
A few days later, Myers met Knight in Florida (where Knight was watching spring training), bringing Texas Tech president David Schmidly with him. Schmidly and Knight, both avid fishermen, hit it right off. Knight and his wife, Karen, soon arrived in Lubbock for a three-day visit, amid fanfare worthy of a movie star. The Knights were as thrilled with Lubbock as Lubbock was with them. Knight later said that he had been sitting down with officials from another school when Karen, who was standing behind them, began shaking her head no. He said his wife, a native Oklahoman, told him, “No place in America will better understand you than West Texas.”
It was as if it were meant to be. The arena was on Indiana Avenue. The school colors were scarlet and black, so Knight could still wear his trademark red sweaters. Knight, who had been a Red Rider at Orrville High, in Ohio, would now be a Red Raider. An editorial cartoon in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal showed the heavens parting and angels ushering him into the spotlight. Knight assured Schmidly that his time away from coaching had given him a new perspective. Schmidly didn’t ask for any behavior clauses in Knight’s contract and airily dismissed press concerns, insisting he knew of nothing Knight had done at Indiana University that would have gotten him fired at Texas Tech. He claimed to have interviewed a hundred people who knew Knight but was only vaguely familiar with the tape showing Knight grabbing the throat of former Indiana player Neil Reed, and saw no need to watch it. When sixty members of the faculty signed a petition protesting the hiring, Schmidly placated them in a meeting, promising he would be personally responsible for Knight’s behavior.
On March 23 Myers announced Knight’s hiring at a rally in Tech’s United Spirit Arena, attended by a raucous crowd of 7,500. Knight delighted them, making the Texas Tech “guns up” salute with both hands. When Myers presented him with a red sweater-vest, Knight said, “This is without a doubt the most comfortable red sweater I’ve had in six years.” A press conference followed, but with reporters in from around the nation, Knight invited the crowd to stay, encouraging his new fans to let the press know what they thought of its questions. When a reporter tried to ask a follow-up question, Knight declined to answer. When the reporter persisted, Knight asked the crowd, “How many of you want to hear a follow-up from this guy?” The crowd booed.
Be it ever so humble, or unfamiliar, there was no place like home.
“IT’s KIND OF, WELL, not Mayberry, but the people are kind of like that,” said Knight’s son Pat, after arriving in Lubbock to work alongside his father as an assistant coach. “No one bothers you. They’ll come up and talk to you about the game, but they don’t want to know why you didn’t go into the post or why this and why that. … We’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We only have one newspaper. You don’t hear much about Dad. He kind of likes that.”
Nevertheless, Lubbock wasn’t the windblown truck stop the press would make it out to be as it dramatized Knight’s fall from grace. With a population of 200,000, it was more than three times the size of Bloomington, the home of IU. Nor was Knight bringing the cowpokes a game they had never heard of. Texas Tech had a new 15,000-seat arena and had been in the NCAA’s Sweet 16 in 1996, more recently than Knight had. That season, the Raiders went 30-2, and teammates Darvin Ham and Tony Battie would go on to play in the NBA.
Unfortunately, with big-time athletes came trouble. An NCAA investigation subsequently unearthed an array of athletic department violations, including “free bail bonding and legal services” provided to student athletes. Texas Tech forfeited its 1996 tournament wins, had its scholarships limited, and had recently endured four losing seasons in a row, spiraling down to 2000’s 9-19 record. By that year, attendance at Red Raiders games in the two-year-old United Spirit Arena was running below that of the Lady Raiders’, who were still the local stars after winning the 1993 NCAA title with Sheryl Swoopes. In celebration, the Avalanche-Journal had put out its first extra edition since Pearl Harbor. As a local bumper sticker put it, “Texas Tech—Where Men Are Men and Women Are Champions.”
As far as men’s basketball was concerned, Texas Tech was the runt of the Big 12, and Myers could offer Knight a salary of only $250,000, below the conference average, although he was promised another $500,000 from various sources. Knight wouldn’t have his pick of in-state kids, as he had had at Indiana. The University of Texas at Austin dominated the state in all things, and the Longhorns, along with Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, dominated Big 12 basketball. In his darkest days at IU, Knight could still attract top prospects from around the nation when he felt like trying. At Texas Tech, he was limited, no matter how hard he tried. Pat said that when they called out-of-state recruits, they often had to tell them where they were located and what conference they were in.
Nothing showed how far down the food chain Knight had dropped than his attempt to recruit his first blue-chip prospect: six-foot-eight, 250-pound Sean May, of Bloomington North High School, the son of former Indiana and NBA star Scott May, who remained one