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Archive for Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Knight’s chair-tossing snit nearing 20th anniversary

February 22, 2005

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— Those closest to Steve Reid know him as president of a trucking company, a former teammate and a dad.

Some even remember him as a color commentator on Purdue basketball broadcasts.

However, most others know Reid as the answer to a trivia question.

For 20 years, his life has been defined by one enduring image -- Bob Knight hurling a red, plastic chair across the basketball court as the 5-foot-9 Reid stood at the free-throw line for Purdue.

"There are times I walk into a meeting or a friend calls to say, 'I saw you on TV last night,"' he said. "I know what they're talking about."

Like other famous trivia answers, Wally Pipp, Mookie Wilson and Al Downing, Reid's name forever will be linked to the question: "Who was the guy?"

The chair toss also remains a defining moment in the Indiana-Purdue rivalry. The teams will meet again today, one day short of the 20th anniversary of Knight's throw.

Purdue coach Gene Keady is the last remaining major link to the outburst, and he will be coaching his final game at Assembly Hall.

Two decades ago, Keady walked into the postgame news conference after a 72-63 victory and insisted the important thing was that Purdue won.

He was wrong.

In Reid's mind, the red speck he noticed out of the corner of his eye never faded. Nor did the ensuing collapse -- he missed three of six free throws as Knight was tossed from the game and promptly was scolded on the sideline by Keady.

Knight, fired by Indiana in 2000, didn't return phone messages left for him by the Associated Press at Texas Tech, where he now coaches.

He has coped with it, though, by poking fun at himself over the years. During speeches, Knight sometimes recounts a tale of spotting an old woman behind the basket who needed a chair, so he tossed one to her.

In 2002 at a news conference, Knight found another way to joke about it after tossing aside a broken metal chair.

"That's the furthest I've thrown a chair in a long time," he said.

To Iowa coach Steve Alford, who then was playing for Knight, the chair throwing was symbolic of a season gone awry. Indiana went 16-13 that year and lost to UCLA in the NIT championship, far below the lofty expectations of a coach who by then had won two NCAA titles and the 1984 Olympic gold medal.

"It was not one of our better years, whether it was throwing a chair or not playing well as a team or whatever," Alford said. "It was a technical foul, and we moved on."

For Purdue players, it wasn't that simple. Assembly Hall quickly degenerated from a hostile environment into a dangerous one.

Several Boilermakers still recall the standing ovation Knight received, and then the coin-tossing began. Keady's wife was hit in the eye.

"I figured they must have thought if the coach can throw a chair, they can throw a penny," Reid said.

When play finally resumed, some Purdue players feared for their safety.

Troy Lewis, then a Boilermakers freshman, said the fans were so loud it was scary. Another freshman, Everette Stephens, said he was fearful of even playing.

"I was so nervous and so scared because it was so piercing loud," he said. "That was the loudest crowd I had ever been around."

What ignited the outburst was a scramble for a loose ball at midcourt. Indiana's Daryl Thomas drew his second foul five minutes into the game when Knight insisted it should have been a jump ball. Knight was called for a technical, but before Reid shot the free throws, Knight grabbed a chair with two hands and flung it toward the basket.

Knight apologized the next day, and Big Ten officials gave him a one-game suspension.

Chuck Crabb, Indiana's longtime public-address announcer, had the unenviable job of telling the raucous crowd that Knight had been ejected.

In the 20 years since, Crabb said he has never seen a crowd at Assembly Hall react quite the same way.

"Our crowd, in the next few minutes after that, was a very ugly crowd," Crabb said. "Everything was a boo."

The ramifications are still evident.

Bench seats are frequently chained together in basketball venues now. At Indiana, the courtside trash cans are also locked down.

Crabb occasionally can be heard scolding fans when he believes they are getting out of line, and even Knight was known to grab the microphone periodically.

But two decades later, Reid said he still has not spoken to Knight. The only correspondence came through an e-mail that Reid sent after reading "Knight: My Story."

In the note, Reid said he enjoyed hearing the other side of the story and agreed the call should have been a jump ball, not a foul.

Reid said that Knight sent an appreciative reply.

Now, when Reid watches the tape with his four children, they don't talk about the chair, but give their father and coach grief about his turnovers and missed free throws.

Everyone else wants to know about his scrape with infamy.

"A lot of times when I get introduced somewhere, that story comes up and people say, 'Are you serious, that was in basketball?"' he said. "I didn't like it the first few years, but now I wear it with pride."

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