WHY HAS the U.S. Olympic Committee appointed Bob Knight of Indiana University to coach the 1984 basketball team? True, Coach Knight wins games like few others ever have. But his record is marred by numerous unsportsmanlike outbursts on and off the basketball court--roughing up players and spectators, making crude comments about the competition, and the like.

The most troubling incident occurred while Mr. Knight was representing this country once before, at the 1979 Pan American games in Puerto Rico. He assaulted a local police officer. There was testimony that he referred to a Brazilian women's team as "dirty people." After he left Puerto Rico, he was convicted in absentia of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to six months and $500. The governor declined to seek extradition, but if Mr. Knight happens to return to the island, he could be arrested as a fugitive.

Recently, Mr. Knight made a public appearance during which he was jokingly reminded of the 1979 events. He then told an incredibly tasteless story, presumably false, about leaving Puerto Rico at the time and exposing his bare behind in the plane window "because that's the last thing I wanted those people to see of me." A Chicago journalist, Carmelo Melendez, happened to be in the audience and wrote up the incident for the Hispanic Link News Service.

Surely there is reason here to disqualify Mr. Knight from representing this country at international events, no matter how good he is at coaching basketball players. In 1979, his antics did much to divert attention from his team's victory and from the 262 medals won by other U.S. teams. He embarrassed the country in a manner that even enthusiastic sports fans should not dismiss as playful machismo. His reported behavior ran counter to ideals recognized in this country and in the Olympic games as being more important than scoring points. The 1984 Olympic basketball team needs a different coach.