HAMMOND | While watching the highly-combustible Bob Knight be playfully roasted Saturday night at The Venue, it was obvious how much this coaching legend is revered by fans and peers.
Knight was arrogant, crude and combative while running the men's basketball programs at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech. He was gasoline and we were the spark that set him off.
But the guy won 902 games and three national titles in 41 1/2 seasons and did it without cheating, while graduating 98 percent of his players.
It was a rocky marriage, Knight and the media, whom he berated every chance he got. We'd fire back, of course. It was good fun although an occasional white flag would've been nice.
And when The General joined ESPN in 2008 as a college analyst, some found it a bit hypocritical, sleeping with the enemy he had spent so many years bashing. Maybe he needed the work.
Saturday's Bob Knight roast at the Horseshoe Casino and headlined by ESPN's Jay Bilas was an absolute delight, nevertheless.
Knight, when away from the court and the pressures of the game, has a razor-sharp wit and a compassion for the less fortunate that has always made him special to his tight circle of friends.
Former Indiana players Isiah Thomas and Daryl Thomas, Bloom grad and USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, George Raveling and one-time Big Ten official Dan Chrisman were among the crowd of 2,500.
"This event is not for the timid or easily offended," Bilas warned. "Our panel of roasters has been told not to bring up Coach Knight's behavioral issues or use of profanity ... so good night and drive safely."
Knight, of course, went after each roaster the way he did basketball officials, pulling no punches.
"You talk any longer and we're gonna have to have an intermission," Knight told Bilas. "There's 19 guys out there who already got to take a leak."
St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa took his shots via tape delay, saying how Knight had been multi-tasking as the team adviser on anger management.
"We went from about 30 player ejections a year up to 70 using Bob's technique," La Russa quipped.
Retired Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, appearing via taped video, stole the show with a nonstop flurry of zingers and revealing anecdotes.
"Bob and I would meet for a beer after the game -- and then the bartender would ask him to leave so they could start happy hour," Heathcote said.
Like him or not, IU will never again have a coach of Bob Knight's stature. His firing on Sept. 10, 2000, eliminated the controversy and embarrassment he had caused the university, but it also sucked the life out of its once-feared basketball program.
Mike Davis never fit in and felt unwanted.
Kelvin Sampson was a cheat whose two seasons were marred by a gigantic NCAA scandal.
Indiana hired Tom Crean, a good guy who had averaged 20 wins per season at Marquette but is 16-46 overall and 5-32 against the Big Ten in his two tours in Bloomington.
With Knight, the Hoosiers were 661-240 in 29 seasons. Without him, they are 177-144 with only six NCAA tourney appearances in 10 years.
"There's nothing Bob wouldn't do for me. There's nothing I wouldn't do for Bob. So we've gone through life doing nothing for each other," Heathcote continued.
"If I had a terminal illness and just two weeks to live, I would like to spend that two weeks with Bob because two weeks with Bob would seem like a lifetime."
On this special night, ego and temper were packed away. Knight was cheered and rightfully so.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.