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Bobby Knight, who coached 1984 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team to gold, dies at 83

USA TODAY Sports-Archive

Aug 6, 1984; Los Angeles, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; USA mens basketball head coach Bob Knight guard Steve Alford (4) on the sidelines against West Germany during the quarterfinals at the Forum during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. USA defeated West Germany 78-67. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports


Bobby Knight, the brilliant and combustible coach who guided the 1984 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team to gold and for years was the scowling face of college basketball, has died. He was 83.

Knight’s family made the announcement on social media on Wednesday night.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share that Coach Bob Knight passed away at his home in Bloomington surrounded by his family,” the statement said. “We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as Coach requested a private family gathering, which is being honored. We will continue to celebrate his life and remember him, today and forever as a beloved Husband, Father, Coach, and Friend.”

Knight was among the winningest coaches in the sport, finishing his career with 902 victories in 42 seasons at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech. He coached Indiana to NCAA titles in 1976, 1981 and 1987.

The Hall of Famer cared little what others thought of him, choosing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” to celebrate his 880th win in 2007, then the record for a Division I men’s coach.

He was nicknamed “The General” and his temper was such that in 2000 it cost him his job at Indiana. He once hit a police officer in Puerto Rico, threw a chair across the court and was accused of wrapping his hands around a player’s neck.

The Olympic team he coached in Los Angeles in 1984 was the last amateur U.S. team to win gold in men’s basketball. And, to no surprise, it came with controversy.

Knight kept rising Indiana sophomore Steve Alford on his team while cutting the likes of future Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and John Stockton.

In the month leading up to the Games, the Olympic team went 8-0 in exhibitions against NBA players. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Clyde Drexler were some of the pros who cycled in and out.

Then at the Olympics, the U.S. went 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points per game. The only men’s team in the last 60 years to have a more dominating run through the Olympics was the Dream Team (43.75 points per game margin).

“I’ll never have a greater honor,” Knight wrote of coaching the Olympic team in his autobiography. He had been disappointed not to be selected coach of the 1980 Olympic team, which ultimately did not make it to the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott.

Knight also wrote that, before the Games, he gave each of the 12 players three-by-five and eight-by-ten pictures of an Olympic gold medal for motivation. One to put in their pockets. One to put over their beds.

The three leading scorers were future Dream Teamers Michael Jordan (17.1 points per game), Chris Mullin (11.6) and Patrick Ewing (11).

Knight wrote that he told Jordan, “You’re the best player, so I’ll expect more from you and demand more from you. But I’ll also probably at times get on you when you don’t deserve it. I’m simply giving everybody else a message.”

After the quarterfinals, Knight moved Jordan to tears, ordering him to apologize to his teammates for a six-turnover performance in an 11-point win over West Germany (the Americans’ closest game).

“I don’t know if I would have done (the 1984 Olympics) if I knew what Knight was going to be like,” Jordan said in March 1991, according to Sam Smith‘s book, “The Jordan Rules.”

Knight had a famous conversation with Portland Trail Blazers general manager Stu Inman as the Olympic team practiced six weeks before the Games.

“You’ve got to take Jordan,” Knight told Inman, whose Blazers had the second pick in the NBA Draft.

“Bob, we need a center,” Inman replied.

“Well, play him at center,” Knight said.

After the Houston Rockets drafted Hakeem Olajuwon at No. 1, the Blazers took center Sam Bowie, and Jordan fell to the Bulls at No. 3.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.