In March of 1976, Bob Knight noticed that one of the questioners at a press conference had no pen and paper. "Who are you with?" said Knight, the basketball coach whose Indiana University team would win the NCAA championship the next day.
"The Gold Sheet," the man said.
The Gold Sheet is a gambling newsletter. Knight was less polite. "Is that that piece of garbage that gives the point spreads on games?" he said. Maybe 200 newspaper people saw knight turn angry.
The Gold Sheet man answered Knight's question by remaining silent.
"That garbage has got nothing to do with college basketball." Knight said. "I'm not talking to you. Next question from anybody else."
Unless Ann-Margret delivers their income tax refund, nothing moves 200 newspapermen to applause. Newspaper people are, after all, objective and uninvolved. When Knight froze The Gold Sheet's man out of the questioning, the legitimate press became involved. The 200 applauded.
Bob Knight believes gambling can destroy the game he loves. It is becoming increasingly old-fashioned, of course, to knock gambling on sports. Although it is illegal, everyone does it we are told). It is an intellectual exercise, not much removed from chess with Bobby Fischer (we are told).
Prominent newspapers, including this one, print point spreads and gambling advice. Some sports magazines exist primarily on advertising revenue produced by sales to gambling services. Of approximately 36 pages of ads in the current Street & Smith's basketball yearbook, fully 15 pages advertise gambling sheets and tout services: "Wizard's Wire" . . . "Sports Informer (You Must Win or a Refund)" . . . and so on.
It is tiring running against the tide, but if you're old-fashioned enough to believe you shouldn't break the law, then you're old-fashioned enough to wonder why newspapers and magazines provide information specifically designed to help people who want to break the law.
"Every time I see a point spread in a newspaper," Knight said, "it irritates me. This involves a newspaper's responsibility to the public. And the magazines. I don't believe in college basketball being something wrapped up in gambling sheets. I'm going to propose to the NABC (National Association a of Basketball Coaches) that we no longer cooperate with such magazines."
Knight is hopelessly old-fashioned, as anyone can see. So am I. I think sports ought to have nothing to do with gambling, no matter if everyone does it (I believe a small minority does it) or if it is a mental challenge beyond compare (give me a novel). So when the subject came up the other night, I took notes as Knight did a number on gambling.
A paragraph of background here: At 38, a head coach 14 years, astoundingly successful, Knight believes he is an heir to a rich basketball legacy created by men such as Henry Iba, Clair Bee and Joe Lapchick. Of today's coaches, none matches Knight as a student of the game's history. He can talk of glories gone by. He also knows about 1951. A national point-shaving scandal broke that year.
"Right now, it's building to that again." Knight said. "There are more unsavory characters around basketball than ever before. These 'agent'-all these players have pimps before they get out of high school. The all-star games for high school players are flesh-peddling affairs. Who knows what somebody gives a high school coach, or the player, to get him to thir game? And the NBA has done nothing to enhance itself with the so-called 'hardship' draft. Never was such a thing as a true hardship case. They just want players.
"There's just too much easy money around and everybody wants a piece of it. That's the way the scandale happened before. Kids were being given money for this and that and finally somebody said here's more money if you win by 12 tonight instead of by 20.
"The kids never consciously thought of losing. What's wrong with winning by 12 instead of 20? Especially when somebody is telling the kid. 'Look how much money the university is making off you, so why shouldn't you make some, too?"
"It was th gamblers doing that. And the conditions are right for it to happen again. We could be headed for the worst fall ever."
Knight doesn't think most coaches are worried. He says they live in small worlds, preoccupied with security, and "don't give much thought to the dangers involved."
Meanwhile, point spreads march across your favorite newspaper, gambling advertisements glut the magazines your high school son and daughter buy at the drugstore, and that quast-entertainer, Jimmy the Greek, his reputation based entirely on promotion of gambling shows up on our TV screens talking about legitimate football and basketball games.
"Coaches are not nearly as cognizant of the dangers as we should be," Knight said, "and we had better be more cognizant quickly."
Knight had a scrapbook given to him by Joe Lapchick's widow.
The scrapbook is full of pictures of basketball players being arrested.
Clippings tell how players from Kentucky, Bradley, Brooklyn College, City College of New York, Toledo and Long Island University took gamblers' money to fix games in the late 1940s and early '50s. Great players: Gene (Squeaky) Melchiorre of Bradley, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza of Kentucky, Sherman White of Long Island. Lives fell apart.
It was all there in Joe Lapchick's scrapbook.
"Every team Mr. Lapchick had at St. John's from 1957 to 1964, he made every player read that scrapbook and sign it," Knight said. CAPTION:
Picture 1, 2, Georgetown Coach John Thompson and freshman Eric Smith (32) react as John Duren's field goal drops through at halftime buzzer. Suddenly tied. 26-26. Indiana Coach Bobby Knight reacts in different way, feigning suicide.Photo by Richar/jd Darcey-The Washington Post