Maybe it's because my chair was one of the bigger ones at the press table Friday night that Bobby Knight's wife sat in it with me during the U.S. team's gold-medal basketball victory in the Pan American Games.

It was a tight squeze, my leg hooked through the arm of the big blue metal chair and me back-to-back with Nancy Knight as she looked over her shoulder to watch the game.

When she wasn't rubbing her lucky Snoopy basketball doll, she was closing her eyes and putting her face in her hands during free throws in the tense 113-94 victory over Puerto Rico.

Actually, no one knows how such a large and inviting-looking chair ended up in my possession.

Rumor has it that a miffed scribe, seeing many press-row seats taken by frauds and gate-crashers, visited the Clemente Coliseum administration office and purloined the director's chair. After two weeks here, you learn the local customs.

At any rate, something made me look like a logical choice for a woman in distress - probably the chair.

"I was locked out of the parking lot, kept out of the gym and then, when I finally got to my seat, somebody was in it and wouldn't move. The guard said, "Oh, well, just pack in anywhere, lady," the coach's wife said.

"Thanks for sharing your chair," she said, adding, "Bobby's not going to believe this."

He's not the only one.

Just a week ago, I described Knight as "the original Ugly American even when he stays home in Indiana."

The uncomfortable fact about reality is that it won't stand still and play fair. The world keeps bobbing before us, changing its masks, revealing different contradictory corners of itself.

You'd think that sports, or a tiny sliver of it, like a basketball game, might be a tameable animal that would not squirm in your hand, then turn and bite.

That's not the case. The heros and villains, even in games, keep changing places when you're not looking.

The problem, in part, is the huge distance between private selves and public identities. Knight, off the court in his occasional relaxed moods, is charming and dynamic. His wife is touchingly loyal.

Nevertheless, private personalities get trampled in the public crush. It is the visible Knight, acting in the midst of conspicious events, who gets judged, while it is the private Knight family that feels the lingering weight.

"We brought our two children down with us. They're 8 and 14," Knight's wife said. "I'm not sure it was a good idea."

Those are not good ages to see your father ejected from a game, thrown out of a gym, booed at every turn, arrested, put in a jail cell momentarily and finally brought to trial.

This daily soap opera, "The Edge of Knight," has been unavoidable grist for the publicity mill here - tangled, funny, bizarre. But it also has, as Nancy Knight said, "been one long Puerto Rico headache for us."

Nonetheless, Knight set the tone of his own theater. He has taken the initiative at every step, keeping the chip on his shoulder till the last and never recounting with any sincerity.

After all, it's not everybody who can chew out an island inhabited by 3.3 million people as though they'd just double dribbled, as Knight did after Friday night's game. Anyone can be a sore loser, but Knight set new standards for being a sore winner.

"I'm not a diplomat. I don't know anything about foreign policy," Knight said, warming to a postgame tirade. "I just know we beat...everybody down here...My players are the only people on this whole...island that I care anything about."

There was more, as usual - insults to an American reporter Knight mistook for Puerto Rican, and his wisecracks about Puerto Rican police and Caribbean justice.

Those comments have become, though he does not know it, an embarrassment to Knight himself. The shame of these Games is that his bully-in-a-China-shop escapades have overshadowed America's 263 medals.

Certainly, Knight owes an apology to Puerto Rico. No matter how unintentionally humorous and ragtag these Games have been at times, there is no question that this poor island with a per capita income of $2,500 has tried its best to be a good host. By and large, it has succeeded.

Even in the Big 10, Knight has a persecution complex and sees crooked refs under the bed. Here, he has been truly paranoid. His own inflexibility and inability to see past the hoop to larger issues has caused every childish incident.

However, Knight's real apology should be to the 600-member U.S. delegation, whose performances have been driven out of the relatively limited media coverage that the Pan Am Games get in most of the United States.

The already famous Knight, with his passion for being in the spotlight, whether good or bad, has kept many a swimmer and boxer from their once-in-four-years moment of glory.

Naturally, the press has lapped up the Knight sagas - never turn down an easy, flashy angle. But Knight started the fire and fanned its homely little flames.

The painful edge of this affair is that Knight truly believes he is totally right and that Puerto Rico, en masse, has been out to bamboozle his team since it landed.

Rather sadly, Knight alone among American coaches here seems to think he's still back in the States - that this is just another basketball tournament, nothing more.

Others learn their simple lessons here. "Puerto Rican fans are knowledgeable and appreciate good performance, regardless," said Lyle Knudson, U.S. women's track coach. "But they prefer countries who share their culture and size. We're the Big Daddy, and there's naturally some resentment."

The Cubans, with a typical knack for political con, entered Bithorn Stadium opening day by throwing dolls to the crowd and waving Cuban and Puerto Rican flags together.

"It's like the poem about the two wings of the same bird," said Cuban star sprinter Silvio Leonard. "Even our flags are the same, only (colors) reversed. The Puerto Ricans always support the Cubans. There's good feeling between us."

American swimmers picked up on the trick, chanting, "Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico," and waving island flags after their teammate, Jesse Vassallo, a native Puerto Rican, won his races. The local crowds immediately adopted the American swimmers as second favorites behind their own entries. It was so easy.

Knight, however, never had a clue, never understood he was a guest in a foreign culture first and a basketball coach far behind. For him, basketball remained big, life small.

As the U.S.-Puerto Rico game ended Friday night, a fist fight broke out in the stands. In the middle of that tension, Knight decided to let fly with his anti-island remarks.

Meanwhile, his players eyed the stands and shuffled about, not looking too anxious to make themselves conspicuous as they stepped forward to receive their medals.

As Knight groused, locked in his private world, forward Mike O'Koren, 21, gathered his mates together and mustered them into a straight line, telling them, "Come on, guys. Get that line straight. Stand up tall. You're representing a lot of people back home. Act right. Don't react to anything and don't let any trouble get started. Shape up."

Are you listening, Bobby? It would take only one dawn of understanding to turn Knight into day.