Seth Davis on Larry Bird and Bobby Knight

CBS and Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis has a new book out, titled “When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball.” For my work at Yahoo!, I had the chance to read an advance copy of the book and interview Davis about it the other day. Here’s a confession I’ll make: I did not know the Larry Bird-leaving-IU story. I mean, I knew it, vaguely, but I didn’t know the details of it, which is why this excerpt from the book interested me. I assume it will interest you as well:

The start of classes only intensified Bird’s feelings of isolation. Here he was, a poor, sheltered, intensely introverted teenager who had barely set foot outside his hometown of fewer than three thousand people, and he was stuck without any friends on a campus of more than thirty thousand undergraduates. He couldn’t get over the fact that he had to walk several miles just to get to class. And, as he often said half-jokingly, “I ain’t no genius in school.”

If he thought he might get some emotional support from the coaches, that notion was quickly dispelled as well. One night, while walking down the street with Jan Condra, who had also enrolled at Indiana, at Larry’s behest, and her sister, Larry looked up and saw Knight walking toward them. He stiffened and readied himself to speak to his head coach for the first time since arriving on campus. Knight walked toward Bird; Bird said hello — and Knight blew by without saying a word. “Larry didn’t say anything, but I could tell with his demeanor that his feelings were hurt,” Condra says. “Larry was used to people being a lot nicer to him. He didn’t like Coach Knight’s personality.”

Knight would later regret treating Bird so coldly. “Larry Bird is one of my great mistakes,” he said. “I was negligent in realizing what Bird needed at that time in his life.”

Bob Knight, for all his faults, was a great coach, but come on, dude. You let one of the all-time greats slip through your fingers because you couldn’t say hello to him on his walk back from class? Couldn’t give him a quick fatherly nod or something? Some sign you recognized he existed? It’s not Knight’s fault Bird was so thin-skinned, but really. Help the greatest player to ever come from Indiana (right? is there someone else that takes this title?) out a little bit.

Anyway, if you want to read the interview about all this stuff, including about how Larry Bird almost didn’t play basketball after he left Indiana, Part One of my interview with Davis is here, and Part Two is here.

  • MillaRed

    This story goes round and round. The majority of the time the bloggers back the coach. Three titles will do that to the average fan.

    Larry Bird took Indiana State…INDIANA STATE to the national title game. All by his lonesome. Knight had him on campus and he screwed it up. So we can make ourselves feel better by mentioning the titles and ripping on Bird. But at the end of the day this was an all-time NCAA basketball blunder. There just isn't a defense for it. Add a 6th if not 7th banner in the rafters if this guy stays on campus.

  • MillaRed

    This story goes round and round. The majority of the time the bloggers back the coach. Three titles will do that to the average fan.

    Larry Bird took Indiana State…INDIANA STATE to the national title game. All by his lonesome. Knight had him on campus and he screwed it up. So we can make ourselves feel better by mentioning the titles and ripping on Bird. But at the end of the day this was an all-time NCAA basketball blunder. There just isn't a defense for it. Add a 6th if not 7th banner in the rafters if this guy stays on campus.

  • CutterInChicago

    To riff off of what MillaRed is saying. Knight, who I loved as a coach but could also appreciate was insane in many ways, screwed up and admits it. However, that apparently had no lasting impact on him (which is the bigger crimeto me).
    Knight could have had Bird had he maybe been a little more accessible as many coaches are with their players. By my calculations this means that Bird, as the HS class of 1974 (same as Jim Wisman), would have been at Indiana from 74-75, 75-76, 76-77and 77-78. That means his JR and SR years would have overlapped with Mike Woodson's FR and SO years (Woody was there 76-77, 77-78) and Ray Tolbert's Freshman year (77-78) …. that boggles the mind (and as most know, the 76-77 IU team was not good but clearly would have benefited from Larry Legend.
    That said, I'd have to back Oscar over Bird with my criteria being the overall body of work (HS-College-Pro)

  • CutterInChicago

    To riff off of what MillaRed is saying. Knight, who I loved as a coach but could also appreciate was insane in many ways, screwed up and admits it. However, that apparently had no lasting impact on him (which is the bigger crimeto me).
    Knight could have had Bird had he maybe been a little more accessible as many coaches are with their players. By my calculations this means that Bird, as the HS class of 1974 (same as Jim Wisman), would have been at Indiana from 74-75, 75-76, 76-77and 77-78. That means his JR and SR years would have overlapped with Mike Woodson's FR and SO years (Woody was there 76-77, 77-78) and Ray Tolbert's Freshman year (77-78) …. that boggles the mind (and as most know, the 76-77 IU team was not good but clearly would have benefited from Larry Legend.
    That said, I'd have to back Oscar over Bird with my criteria being the overall body of work (HS-College-Pro)

  • CutterInChicago

    To riff off of what MillaRed is saying. Knight, who I loved as a coach but could also appreciate was insane in many ways, screwed up and admits it. However, that apparently had no lasting impact on him (which is the bigger crimeto me).
    Knight could have had Bird had he maybe been a little more accessible as many coaches are with their players. By my calculations this means that Bird, as the HS class of 1974 (same as Jim Wisman), would have been at Indiana from 74-75, 75-76, 76-77and 77-78. That means his JR and SR years would have overlapped with Mike Woodson's FR and SO years (Woody was there 76-77, 77-78) and Ray Tolbert's Freshman year (77-78) …. that boggles the mind (and as most know, the 76-77 IU team was not good but clearly would have benefited from Larry Legend.
    That said, I'd have to back Oscar over Bird with my criteria being the overall body of work (HS-College-Pro)

  • CutterInChicago

    To riff off of what MillaRed is saying. Knight, who I loved as a coach but could also appreciate was insane in many ways, screwed up and admits it. However, that apparently had no lasting impact on him (which is the bigger crimeto me).
    Knight could have had Bird had he maybe been a little more accessible as many coaches are with their players. By my calculations this means that Bird, as the HS class of 1974 (same as Jim Wisman), would have been at Indiana from 74-75, 75-76, 76-77and 77-78. That means his JR and SR years would have overlapped with Mike Woodson's FR and SO years (Woody was there 76-77, 77-78) and Ray Tolbert's Freshman year (77-78) …. that boggles the mind (and as most know, the 76-77 IU team was not good but clearly would have benefited from Larry Legend.
    That said, I'd have to back Oscar over Bird with my criteria being the overall body of work (HS-College-Pro)

  • http://www.crimsonquarry.com JohnM

    But as one of the other people quoted in the book notes, even if Bird hadn't left when he did, he probably wouldn't have lasted under Knight's coaching style.

    I have never noted any particular resentment for Bird among IU fans. He got a standing O at the 1994 IU-Purdue game when I was a sophomore. Also, the first two teams that he missed out on were the two best in school history, so it's hard to say that he was missed early on. Who knows? The key point is that Knight didn't treat him any differently than any other player, and neither Knight nor anyone else had any idea that he was going to be an all-time great..

  • http://www.crimsonquarry.com JohnM

    But as one of the other people quoted in the book notes, even if Bird hadn't left when he did, he probably wouldn't have lasted under Knight's coaching style.

    I have never noted any particular resentment for Bird among IU fans. He got a standing O at the 1994 IU-Purdue game when I was a sophomore. Also, the first two teams that he missed out on were the two best in school history, so it's hard to say that he was missed early on. Who knows? The key point is that Knight didn't treat him any differently than any other player, and neither Knight nor anyone else had any idea that he was going to be an all-time great..

  • http://www.crimsonquarry.com JohnM

    But as one of the other people quoted in the book notes, even if Bird hadn't left when he did, he probably wouldn't have lasted under Knight's coaching style.

    I have never noted any particular resentment for Bird among IU fans. He got a standing O at the 1994 IU-Purdue game when I was a sophomore. Also, the first two teams that he missed out on were the two best in school history, so it's hard to say that he was missed early on. Who knows? The key point is that Knight didn't treat him any differently than any other player, and neither Knight nor anyone else had any idea that he was going to be an all-time great..

  • http://www.crimsonquarry.com JohnM

    But as one of the other people quoted in the book notes, even if Bird hadn't left when he did, he probably wouldn't have lasted under Knight's coaching style.

    I have never noted any particular resentment for Bird among IU fans. He got a standing O at the 1994 IU-Purdue game when I was a sophomore. Also, the first two teams that he missed out on were the two best in school history, so it's hard to say that he was missed early on. Who knows? The key point is that Knight didn't treat him any differently than any other player, and neither Knight nor anyone else had any idea that he was going to be an all-time great..

  • MillaRed

    Well said sir……

  • MillaRed

    Well said sir……

  • MillaRed

    Well said sir……

  • MillaRed

    Well said sir……

  • Keghorn

    Even though Knight had a harsh demeanor and personality, I think Bird would be one of few individuals that could compete with him in a dickhead contest.

  • Keghorn

    Even though Knight had a harsh demeanor and personality, I think Bird would be one of few individuals that could compete with him in a dickhead contest.

  • Keghorn

    Even though Knight had a harsh demeanor and personality, I think Bird would be one of few individuals that could compete with him in a dickhead contest.

  • Keghorn

    Even though Knight had a harsh demeanor and personality, I wouldn't bet against Bird in a dickhead contest against the former coach. He's not exactly a type-A personality and open-hearted kindfellow either.

  • Keghorn

    Even though Knight had a harsh demeanor and personality, I think Bird would be one of few individuals that could compete with him in a dickhead contest.

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