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Archive for Friday, March 7, 2008

Commentary: Knight on ESPN may hold surprises

March 7, 2008

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Props to ESPN for hiring Bob Knight as an analyst during the network's coverage of championship week and the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, it should give new meaning to the term "bracket-buster."

All across America, office pools suddenly became more interesting. Instead of just picking the winner of each game, now you can try to pick the game where an exasperated Knight finally climbs over the desk in the studio and busts up every piece of furniture in sight.

Will it come near the end of one of those triple-headers that stretch from noon to midnight, the second he realizes Dick Vitale has just sucked the last available bit of oxygen out of the room? Maybe right after Fran Frischilla or Jeremy Schaap passes him in the hallway and asks, "What's up, Knight?" Or because he's still seething after discovering all the vending machines in the building are out of "Little Debbie" snack cakes?

As one network executive must have said during the meeting when the pros and cons of Knight's employment were first discussed: Who won't tune in to find out?

Knight's hiring is an inspired move on several levels. He knows more about college basketball than just about anyone, as he never tired of reminding the assembled media, and he has few peers as a teacher of the game. He has strong opinions on every aspect of it, from proper footwork to improper recruiting, and few people are better equipped to call out the incompetents or coaches who cut corners. He can be insightful, instructive, amusing and sarcastic by turns, but he's rarely dull.

The question is just how much of that will make it onto the airwaves.

Knight hasn't weighed in on the subject yet, eschewing the usual conference call with reporters set up when a network hires a former coach or player as an analyst. In a brief statement last week, he said only, "ESPN has been real good for college basketball and I look forward to working with some of their people who I have known a long time."

An ESPN spokesman confirmed that as with nearly all the network's other shows, Knight will appear live, without the safety net of a seven-second delay. Anybody who has watched the outtakes from Knight's performance in the now-infamous "Golf Your Way" video, or any of his other memorable clips on YouTube might argue with the wisdom of that decision. But that's a big part of his appeal.

"Obviously he'll do plenty of preparing over the next few days. But rehearsals? No," said his agent, Sandy Montag. "ESPN wants Bob Knight for Bob Knight."

If so, it's hard to picture the General wearing makeup, let alone anything more confining than a sweater.

"He'll be on the air next Thursday," Montag said. "Let's leave something to the imagination of the viewer.

"He'd been coaching for a long time and didn't know what he was going to do next," Montag said. "But when this came along, it intrigued him. He's always been intrigued by TV and the media, but he wasn't expecting anything. He's not the type of guy to plan anything."

Ultimately, that could be the saving grace or the end of the experiment. As ESPN found out when it put radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh on the air, things don't always go according to the script.

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