Seth Davis on Larry Bird and Bobby Knight

  • 03/05/2009 12:45 pm in

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.

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  • msdiu81

    Greatest player to come from Indiana? Are you kidding me? Sure he won some in the NBA, but what did he do in High School where the Indiana greats are measured? He wasn't even a Mr. Basketball. He lost in the NCAA final and he is great? There are some other guys I would rate ahead of Bird, Oscar Robertson for one, not to mention all the IU guys that won Mr. Basketball and NCAA championships. Bird was good, but not nearly the greatest. As far as Knight not speaking, well that shouldn't surprise anyone. Great knowledge of the game, but a boorish personality with a huge ego. I'm not sorry Bird left. We won without him and if he couldn't handle such a big city as B'town, then forget him.

  • msdiu81

    Greatest player to come from Indiana? Are you kidding me? Sure he won some in the NBA, but what did he do in High School where the Indiana greats are measured? He wasn't even a Mr. Basketball. He lost in the NCAA final and he is great? There are some other guys I would rate ahead of Bird, Oscar Robertson for one, not to mention all the IU guys that won Mr. Basketball and NCAA championships. Bird was good, but not nearly the greatest. As far as Knight not speaking, well that shouldn't surprise anyone. Great knowledge of the game, but a boorish personality with a huge ego. I'm not sorry Bird left. We won without him and if he couldn't handle such a big city as B'town, then forget him.

  • msdiu81

    Greatest player to come from Indiana? Are you kidding me? Sure he won some in the NBA, but what did he do in High School where the Indiana greats are measured? He wasn't even a Mr. Basketball. He lost in the NCAA final and he is great? There are some other guys I would rate ahead of Bird, Oscar Robertson for one, not to mention all the IU guys that won Mr. Basketball and NCAA championships. Bird was good, but not nearly the greatest. As far as Knight not speaking, well that shouldn't surprise anyone. Great knowledge of the game, but a boorish personality with a huge ego. I'm not sorry Bird left. We won without him and if he couldn't handle such a big city as B'town, then forget him.

  • msdiu81

    Greatest player to come from Indiana? Are you kidding me? Sure he won some in the NBA, but what did he do in High School where the Indiana greats are measured? He wasn't even a Mr. Basketball. He lost in the NCAA final and he is great? There are some other guys I would rate ahead of Bird, Oscar Robertson for one, not to mention all the IU guys that won Mr. Basketball and NCAA championships. Bird was good, but not nearly the greatest. As far as Knight not speaking, well that shouldn't surprise anyone. Great knowledge of the game, but a boorish personality with a huge ego. I'm not sorry Bird left. We won without him and if he couldn't handle such a big city as B'town, then forget him.

  • BGleas

    So Pat Graham is a better basketball player than Larry Bird? Damon Bailey is a better player than Larry Bird?

    I would say you can make an argument with Oscar, but Larry Bird is arguably one of the top 5-10 basketball players who have ever lived, so yes I think it's safe for Eammon to say that Bird is the greatest player to come from Indiana.

  • BGleas

    So Pat Graham is a better basketball player than Larry Bird? Damon Bailey is a better player than Larry Bird?

    I would say you can make an argument with Oscar, but Larry Bird is arguably one of the top 5-10 basketball players who have ever lived, so yes I think it's safe for Eammon to say that Bird is the greatest player to come from Indiana.

  • BGleas

    So Pat Graham is a better basketball player than Larry Bird? Damon Bailey is a better player than Larry Bird?

    I would say you can make an argument with Oscar, but Larry Bird is arguably one of the top 5-10 basketball players who have ever lived, so yes I think it's safe for Eammon to say that Bird is the greatest player to come from Indiana.

  • BGleas

    So Pat Graham is a better basketball player than Larry Bird? Damon Bailey is a better player than Larry Bird?

    I would say you can make an argument with Oscar, but Larry Bird is arguably one of the top 5-10 basketball players who have ever lived, so yes I think it's safe for Eammon to say that Bird is the greatest player to come from Indiana.

  • I can certainly see the case for Bird. Just because he didn't win Mr. Basketball or a state championship doesn't make him any less of a player. He was from French Lick. I don't recall many Mr. Basketball's hailing from French Lick. He took Indiana State to the title game and they haven't returned since. At the highest level, he was a three-time NBA MVP, won three championships, is one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history and is a hall of famer. I realize he might not be the most popular guy in the eyes of some IU fans because he left, but one must give credit where credit is due, right? I think that saying he was just “good” and “forget him” is being a little irrational, no?

  • I can certainly see the case for Bird. Just because he didn't win Mr. Basketball or a state championship doesn't make him any less of a player. He was from French Lick. I don't recall many Mr. Basketball's hailing from French Lick. He took Indiana State to the title game and they haven't returned since. At the highest level, he was a three-time NBA MVP, won three championships, is one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history and is a hall of famer. I realize he might not be the most popular guy in the eyes of some IU fans because he left, but one must give credit where credit is due, right? I think that saying he was just “good” and “forget him” is being a little irrational, no?

  • I can certainly see the case for Bird. Just because he didn't win Mr. Basketball or a state championship doesn't make him any less of a player. He was from French Lick. I don't recall many Mr. Basketball's hailing from French Lick. He took Indiana State to the title game and they haven't returned since. At the highest level, he was a three-time NBA MVP, won three championships, is one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history and is a hall of famer. I realize he might not be the most popular guy in the eyes of some IU fans because he left, but one must give credit where credit is due, right? I think that saying he was just “good” and “forget him” is being a little irrational, no?

  • I can certainly see the case for Bird. Just because he didn't win Mr. Basketball or a state championship doesn't make him any less of a player. He was from French Lick. I don't recall many Mr. Basketball's hailing from French Lick. He took Indiana State to the title game and they haven't returned since. At the highest level, he was a three-time NBA MVP, won three championships, is one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history and is a hall of famer. I realize he might not be the most popular guy in the eyes of some IU fans because he left, but one must give credit where credit is due, right? I think that saying he was just “good” and “forget him” is being a little irrational, no?

  • DJW

    Could maybe you have mispelled your name Ms. DUI?

    Not sorry Bird left?

    All the IU guysthat won….?

    Phfttt…

  • DJW

    Could maybe you have mispelled your name Ms. DUI?

    Not sorry Bird left?

    All the IU guysthat won….?

    Phfttt…

  • DJW

    Could maybe you have mispelled your name Ms. DUI?

    Not sorry Bird left?

    All the IU guysthat won….?

    Phfttt…

  • DJW

    Could maybe you have mispelled your name Ms. DUI?

    Not sorry Bird left?

    All the IU guysthat won….?

    Phfttt…

  • Ziggy

    The Big O. Oscar was a better baller than Bird.

  • Ziggy

    The Big O. Oscar was a better baller than Bird.

  • Ziggy

    The Big O. Oscar was a better baller than Bird.

  • Ziggy

    The Big O. Oscar was a better baller than Bird.

  • jg

    It has to be a tie between The big O and Bird. Two terrific players that led their respected high school and collegiate teams to prominence. In the NBA, they personified what playing with fundamentals means. Very few could fill up a stat sheet for play on both ends of the floor every night like these two. When it comes to Indiana basketball, you can not simply place one player as the greatest. The state is far to rich in high school, . “One of the greatest” works just fine.

  • jg

    It has to be a tie between The big O and Bird. Two terrific players that led their respected high school and collegiate teams to prominence. In the NBA, they personified what playing with fundamentals means. Very few could fill up a stat sheet for play on both ends of the floor every night like these two. When it comes to Indiana basketball, you can not simply place one player as the greatest. The state is far to rich in high school, . “One of the greatest” works just fine.

  • jg

    It has to be a tie between The big O and Bird. Two terrific players that led their respected high school and collegiate teams to prominence. In the NBA, they personified what playing with fundamentals means. Very few could fill up a stat sheet for play on both ends of the floor every night like these two. When it comes to Indiana basketball, you can not simply place one player as the greatest. The state is far to rich in high school, . “One of the greatest” works just fine.

  • jg

    It has to be a tie between The big O and Bird. Two terrific players that led their respected high school and collegiate teams to prominence. In the NBA, they personified what playing with fundamentals means. Very few could fill up a stat sheet for play on both ends of the floor every night like these two. When it comes to Indiana basketball, you can not simply place one player as the greatest. The state is far to rich in high school, . “One of the greatest” works just fine.

  • jgongora86

    The sad part about that is that we could have had the Big O and Larry at IU. THat would have been at least two additional national championships. Oh to have a time machine.

  • jgongora86

    The sad part about that is that we could have had the Big O and Larry at IU. THat would have been at least two additional national championships. Oh to have a time machine.

  • jgongora86

    The sad part about that is that we could have had the Big O and Larry at IU. THat would have been at least two additional national championships. Oh to have a time machine.

  • jgongora86

    The sad part about that is that we could have had the Big O and Larry at IU. THat would have been at least two additional national championships. Oh to have a time machine.

  • Hoosier_Hound

    That sounds like Coach Knight. From everything I've ever heard, he brutally toughened you into a man while you were in school. But after you were done playing for him, he'd do whatever he could to help you out in life.

    Bird just didn't have the personality and/or maturity for Knight's style. I've never fretted over it too much, people have different styles of teaching and learning that they prefer.

    As far as the greatest Indiana player ever, I always say it's Robertson and Bird and you can pick the order if you want.

  • Hoosier_Hound

    That sounds like Coach Knight. From everything I've ever heard, he brutally toughened you into a man while you were in school. But after you were done playing for him, he'd do whatever he could to help you out in life.

    Bird just didn't have the personality and/or maturity for Knight's style. I've never fretted over it too much, people have different styles of teaching and learning that they prefer.

    As far as the greatest Indiana player ever, I always say it's Robertson and Bird and you can pick the order if you want.

  • Hoosier_Hound

    That sounds like Coach Knight. From everything I've ever heard, he brutally toughened you into a man while you were in school. But after you were done playing for him, he'd do whatever he could to help you out in life.

    Bird just didn't have the personality and/or maturity for Knight's style. I've never fretted over it too much, people have different styles of teaching and learning that they prefer.

    As far as the greatest Indiana player ever, I always say it's Robertson and Bird and you can pick the order if you want.

  • Hoosier_Hound

    That sounds like Coach Knight. From everything I've ever heard, he brutally toughened you into a man while you were in school. But after you were done playing for him, he'd do whatever he could to help you out in life.

    Bird just didn't have the personality and/or maturity for Knight's style. I've never fretted over it too much, people have different styles of teaching and learning that they prefer.

    As far as the greatest Indiana player ever, I always say it's Robertson and Bird and you can pick the order if you want.

  • oldwo

    Everyone is forgetting that Larry the Legend was made at Indiana State. Coming out of high school he was a very good player but was not seen as a legend in waiting. All of this is a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda.

  • oldwo

    Everyone is forgetting that Larry the Legend was made at Indiana State. Coming out of high school he was a very good player but was not seen as a legend in waiting. All of this is a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda.

  • oldwo

    Everyone is forgetting that Larry the Legend was made at Indiana State. Coming out of high school he was a very good player but was not seen as a legend in waiting. All of this is a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda.

  • oldwo

    Everyone is forgetting that Larry the Legend was made at Indiana State. Coming out of high school he was a very good player but was not seen as a legend in waiting. All of this is a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda.

  • BFowler

    If you want to get technical, Oscar was FROM Kentucky although he moved to Indy in elementary school. We are splitting hairs between Oscar and Larry. I think what made Larry great was that he took every criticism to heart and every slight made him want to prove he was up to the challenge. I certainly understand the story and it does not in the least bit surprise me (also, since I have read Larry's book I knew the story). I am not in the business of laying blame, but if you you want to lay blame, pass some blame to Kent Benson as well.

  • BFowler

    If you want to get technical, Oscar was FROM Kentucky although he moved to Indy in elementary school. We are splitting hairs between Oscar and Larry. I think what made Larry great was that he took every criticism to heart and every slight made him want to prove he was up to the challenge. I certainly understand the story and it does not in the least bit surprise me (also, since I have read Larry's book I knew the story). I am not in the business of laying blame, but if you you want to lay blame, pass some blame to Kent Benson as well.

  • BFowler

    If you want to get technical, Oscar was FROM Kentucky although he moved to Indy in elementary school. We are splitting hairs between Oscar and Larry. I think what made Larry great was that he took every criticism to heart and every slight made him want to prove he was up to the challenge. I certainly understand the story and it does not in the least bit surprise me (also, since I have read Larry's book I knew the story). I am not in the business of laying blame, but if you you want to lay blame, pass some blame to Kent Benson as well.

  • BFowler

    If you want to get technical, Oscar was FROM Kentucky although he moved to Indy in elementary school. We are splitting hairs between Oscar and Larry. I think what made Larry great was that he took every criticism to heart and every slight made him want to prove he was up to the challenge. I certainly understand the story and it does not in the least bit surprise me (also, since I have read Larry's book I knew the story). I am not in the business of laying blame, but if you you want to lay blame, pass some blame to Kent Benson as well.

  • coverdaleISgod

    A.J. Ratliff = Mr. Basketball…well we all know how that turned out… I have read in other books that Kent Benson was assigned at Bird's mentor. Maybe Kent should have spent less time cruising for co-eds in McNutt Quad and took French Lick Larry under his wing a little bit….

  • coverdaleISgod

    A.J. Ratliff = Mr. Basketball…well we all know how that turned out… I have read in other books that Kent Benson was assigned at Bird's mentor. Maybe Kent should have spent less time cruising for co-eds in McNutt Quad and took French Lick Larry under his wing a little bit….

  • coverdaleISgod

    A.J. Ratliff = Mr. Basketball…well we all know how that turned out… I have read in other books that Kent Benson was assigned at Bird's mentor. Maybe Kent should have spent less time cruising for co-eds in McNutt Quad and took French Lick Larry under his wing a little bit….

  • coverdaleISgod

    A.J. Ratliff = Mr. Basketball…well we all know how that turned out… I have read in other books that Kent Benson was assigned at Bird's mentor. Maybe Kent should have spent less time cruising for co-eds in McNutt Quad and took French Lick Larry under his wing a little bit….

  • Kyle Feller

    Gotta give that title to Oscar Robertson.

  • Kyle Feller

    Gotta give that title to Oscar Robertson.

  • Kyle Feller

    Gotta give that title to Oscar Robertson.

  • Kyle Feller

    Gotta give that title to Oscar Robertson.

  • 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.