On Thursday, I had an opportunity to meet very briefly someone who might have been on my list of 10 people I would most like to meet – former basketball coach Bob Knight.
The opportunity came after I decided to take a fun overnight trip to watch my alma mater, the University of Georgia, play Kentucky in basketball on Thursday night in Athens, Ga.
After I left Thursday morning, my old college friend, Dave Williams, who still lives in Athens, told me that Coach Knight would be signing copies of his new book at the University of Georgia bookstore later that day.
Coach Knight was to be the color commentator for that night’s game on ESPN, so either he or his book publisher thought it might be a good time for him to push his unusually titled new book, “The Power of Negative Thinking.”
As a result, I figured I would try to work in my schedule getting him to sign one of his books, if the line was not too long.
I certainly understand the mixed emotions people have had about Coach Knight over the years. During his coaching days, he obviously had a temper that he could not always control and that would occasionally get him in trouble.
Some of the scenes – including of him throwing a chair onto the court against Purdue in 1985 – are somewhat ugly to watch.
But for me, I simply thought it would be neat as I grew older to say I had played a sport under such a coach as the longtime successful Indiana University basketball legend. He challenged his players greatly, and perhaps the experience would not have been that much different from serving in a challenging military unit like the Navy Seals.
I also liked how his players generally stayed out of trouble, made mostly good grades in their classes and managed to win three national championships and a number of Big 10 championships.
After I became a Coach Knight fan, I started cheering for Indiana’s basketball team along with Georgia’s teams, and that dual college fandom continues today. Actually, Georgia and Indiana played earlier this season in basketball for the first time since 1976, and the color commentator was none other than Coach Knight.
When I arrived at the bookstore by Sanford Stadium about the time the two-hour book signing was starting, I noticed several people purchasing copies of his book. I also soon realized that the book signing was in an upstairs part of the bookstore, which had been greatly remodeled since I was in school 30 years ago.
As I stood in line by the cash registers to buy the book, I heard Coach Knight on his cell phone calmly tell someone that he would call him or her back later -- that he was at a book signing.
I bought the book – which deals with Coach Knight’s thoughts on using negative thinking or situations to bring positive results -- and then climbed the stairs to get in line for the signing.
At the top of the steps, I was handed a piece of paper that had certain rules. They included that Coach Knight would sign only copies of that book, that he would not be able to pose for pictures (although you could take some of him), and that he was on a strict schedule.
A few feet away, another person gave me a note to post on the signing page saying to whom I wanted the book addressed. I borrowed someone’s pen and signed, “To John.” However, a few moments later, I decided it would be more authentic to have my last name, so I added that to the note.
As I waited, it looked like about 30 or so people were in front of me in the line that went back and forth like at an airport or amusement park. Most of the customers appeared to be male Georgia students, but I did see five or so other older men. One or two people even sported an Indiana T-shirt.
His glory days of coaching were 20 or more years ago, so that is partly why the crowd did not appear to be overly large. If he was doing a signing in a place like an Indianapolis Barnes and Nobles, I am sure the crowd would have been much bigger.
The signing also had a very quiet atmosphere, and most people seemed to be saying very little to Coach Knight. As a result, the line was moving fairly quickly.
I am sure it was far different from the likely “love fest” that existed at beloved former UT Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt’s book signing last week at a Knoxville Barnes and Nobles to promote her new book, “Sum It Up,” written with Sally Jenkins.
I am not sure if the quietness and coolness at the Coach Knight signing was because guests were scared to speak much after seeing the signing rules sheet, or because of the austere and demanding manner for which he became known as a coach.
Although it might have been better for his sake if he did try to enjoy a little more friendly rapport with those in line, especially now that he is a retired coach looking back on his career, I was just glad that the line was going fairly fast.
After only about 10 minutes, I reached the table and handed my book to the man standing next to Coach Knight. I was a little nervous at the long-anticipated meeting, and the back of my book was actually a little wet from my slightly sweaty palms.
I feared Coach Knight might notice that and question my manhood, but none of that occurred. He simply opened the book and began signing, just as he was doing with everyone else.
I had thought about a sentence or so to quickly say to him to let him know I had been a fan over the years, so I quickly blurted out a well-rehearsed, “I have always admired your coaching.”
And about a second later, without looking up, he blurted out a strong “Thank you.” And, to me, it sounded like sincere appreciation.
As a result, I felt pleased and satisfied as he handed me the book and looked at me for the first time.
As I looked at the book after I left, I noticed that he had not written down my last name on the title page, just my first name.
However, I was thankful he signed his full name and that he had said two other words to me – thank you.