Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Surprised By Pleasure

When I was growing up, Indiana University men's basketball coach Bobby Knight seemed to stand for everything I disliked. Although he was obviously good at the technical aspect of his job, his incendiary outbursts were frightening to me, perhaps because they reminded me a little too much of my teenage temper. Over the years, though, as his principles seemed to get in the way of sporting success -- he always made sure his players did their school work and had one of the highest graduation rates in Division I -- I softened a bit towards him. By the time he had been booted from his post with the Hoosiers -- for both his anger and his arrogance -- I was open to reevaluating him.

I'll admit to rooting for his Texas Tech teams, even though I wasn't particularly keen on the state. And I was sad to see him step down in the middle of the season. What I couldn't predict, given his notoriously contentious interactions with the sports media, was that he would soon turn his retirement into a blessing for the basketball world. I know there are many people out there, even diehard fans of the sport, who feel about Knight the way I once did. But regardless of how much of an asshole he was as a coach, I think he is extremely easy to like as a part-time color commentator for ESPN.

He still speaks his mind, sometimes with what might be regarded as excessive bluntness. Yet that refusal to resort to clichés, which helped to make him so bristly in post-game press conferences, turns out to be a boon in his new profession. Every time I watch him call a game, I either learn something new or have a lesson he imparted on a previous occasion powerfully reinforced. It may sound weird to say this, but I'm not just becoming a more knowledgeable spectator of the sport, I'm also becoming a better player. To be sure, I remain slow of foot and even slower of mind on the hardwood, with a consistently inconsistent shot to match. But almost every time I compete, whether one-on-one, three-on-three or full court, there is a moment when I am able to collect my thoughts and make a good decision because Bobby Knight's voice is in my head.

There have been fine color commentators, like Howard Cosell, who enhance the sports they cover by placing them in a broader context. I applaud that approach, when well executed. In the end, though, I would rather have the experience that Bobby Knight is providing. One thing I really like about his broadcasting work is that he seems positively allergic to the tie-ins and human interest angles that are such a big part of contemporary sports programming. His partner may mention something of that nature. The camera may pan to a celebrity in the crowd or some other item of non-basketball interest. But Knight resolutely refuses to talk about anything other than the game itself. He loves to discuss fine points of technique or strategy and he wants his audience to share in his love. That I can respect, even if the bright red sweater he still insists upon wearing makes me have flashbacks to my days of hating everything I thought he represented.
Tags: autobiography, everyday, sports

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