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Dawning of the Knight Era at ESPN

Judging from his first appearance on ESPN Radio, with Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg a few days after he signed on, this may not exactly be a match made in hoops heaven.

When he was asked on that national sports talk show about Indiana University's recent firing of serial cheating coach Kelvin Sampson for continuing recruiting violations, Knight insisted, "I haven't paid any attention to that." When Greenberg followed up, Knight quickly shut him down, saying "I appreciate your doggedness, but we're done with that subject."

Still, Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president for production, keeps insisting to anyone who will listen that Knight's hiring was a no-brainer.

"He is a compelling figure who people will listen to," he told Sports Illustrated's web site, "If our goal is to provide the best information, the most analysis and the most entertainment for basketball and sports fans, I don't think we're doing our job unless we take a chance and get a person of Knight's stature to come and work for us."

Bob Ley, a long-time ESPN anchor and host of its exemplary "Outside the Lines" investigative series, said he also had no problem with Knight's hiring.

"We're in the entertainment business," he said in a telephone interview last week. "And Bob Knight has forgotten more basketball than any of us has ever learned. He's a galvanizing figure. But I also have to say, this is not easy work. I've seen it in every sport where we bring in athletes or coaches who have just retired. At some point, the reservoir of knowledge will dry up, and you really have to work at this. You just can't show up.

"I think he can be good. If Dick (Vitale) and Digger (Phelps, his studio co-hosts) can bring out the best in him, it will be win-win-win all around."

Personally, I've got mixed feelings on ESPN's decision to hire Knight. As someone who has criticized networks for employing past media-unfriendly athlete/louts like Bill Walton and Sterling Sharpe, the knee-jerk in me says this is all wrong and may even end badly. Will Knight, for example, walk off the set, as he once did on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" show, when he was asked about the recent firing of his own successor, Mike Davis, a few years ago?

And yet, despite that first frosty radio appearance with Mike and Mike, I also believe Knight actually could be an asset, as long as he behaves himself and tells us what he really thinks about a wide variety of issues he rarely ducked during his coaching career.

The by-play with his fellow hosts actually could be quite riveting, if Knight stays true to his long-time public stances on the importance of graduating athletes, on making certain players go to class, on criticizing cheaters, on speaking out about the hypocrisy of so many college presidents on so many facets of big-time, big-money college sports.

If he fawns all over his former coaching colleagues a la see-no-evil Vitale, if he fails to speak out against players leaving school after their freshman and sophomore years, if he doesn't go after the NBA (another ESPN partner) for allowing high school kids to turn pro, he never should have signed up for this gig in the first place.

And if he doesn't at least buy Jeremy Schaap lunch in the company cafeteria, he really will have a long way to go just to be Digger Phelps, and light years to approach the late great, Dick Schaap or his son Jeremy as world-class broadcasters.

E-Mail of the Week

Although I hardly ever find myself indulging myself in one of your so eloquently written pieces, I am shocked that you are still writing for The Washington Post. After so confidently stating that the Redskins hopes of postseason football were entirely dashed after the passing of Sean Taylor last season (on Comcast SportsNite), and a morning-after article that completely misinterpreted the life and times of that same Redskin Hero, I thought you had no hope in this city. You had to utilize your entire next column just to apologize, if you don't remember. I suppose I may have been a bit harsh then but now, you find the need to praise a man who completely embarrassed the franchise. Although Myron Cope was a fabulous broadcaster, there was no need to include that moment in which he embarrassed our franchise. Your writing leaves me with one question, how in the world are you still writing for this publication?

Matt Grzeskiewicz

Bowie, Md.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at or

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