Bob Knight Rumors
About a week before the 1984 Olympics, Bob Knight rode shotgun in a Mustang convertible through the streets of Southern California. The United States men’s basketball coach had his feet up on the dashboard and the seat leaned back. Pete Newell was behind the wheel. Henry Iba sat scrunched in the back seat. Both former Team USA head coaches had been involved with the 1984 squad since the trials began three months earlier, in April. Newell was a longtime mentor of Knight, practically a father figure to the Indiana coach. Iba’s wife had died a year earlier, and Knight had invited him to the trials to serve as a consultant to the Olympic staff. It was the escape Iba needed.
Behind the Mustang, a bus transported Knight’s team and staff. The 12 players on board had emerged from perhaps the greatest collection of amateur talent the sport had seen. Among the 72 prospects invited to the Olympic trials in Bloomington, Ind., were 37 future first-round NBA Draft picks, 12 future NBA All-Stars and seven future Hall of Famers. The historical implications weren’t lost on those there. Midway through the trials, George Washington big man Michael Brown asked every player to sign a trials game program, a souvenir he would keep for decades.
The biggest controversy surrounding the selection of the team centered on Knight’s decision to cut Charles Barkley. Over time, the omissions of Karl Malone, John Stockton and others would join that conversation. Many thought Knight could have picked two teams strong enough to win Olympic gold.
Barkley was the surprise. No one had seen someone so big move so fast, jump so quick. During scrimmages, players competing on other courts didn’t have to see to believe. They knew Barkley had dunked just by the sound of the rim snapping back into place. “That was the first time I saw somebody dunk the basketball so hard he lifted the stanchion,” Duke guard Johnny Dawkins said. Barkley talked a lot, and one day at lunch he told everyone at his table that he planned to lead the trials in points, rebounds and assists. Hearing this, Krystkowiak chuckled. “There’s no way,” he said to himself. Then he saw the Auburn star play. Jordan had arrived as the best player in the country, but Barkley looked like the best player in Bloomington. “He had a chip on his shoulder,” Kentucky forward Kenny Walker said. “He knew he was good, but people outside the SEC didn’t know a whole lot about him. He was on a mission.”
The question was whether he could play for a disciplinarian such as Knight. During one scrimmage, Barkley grabbed a defensive rebound, bolted upcourt and dunked viciously, a coast-to-coast avalanche of force. “I thought about taking a charge one time,” Illinois guard Bruce Douglas said, “but I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This dude is going too fast.’” That might have been true. Phelps pulled Barkley aside and told him, “Charles, you got to understand something. You get a rebound, you get it to a guard because Knight’s not going to let you do that.”
Jordan and Ewing were consensus All-Americans in 1984; the U.S. roster included four of the five players honored that year. “It was just a fun team,” Alford said. “I was 19 years old and a complete gym rat. The pick-up games (were competitive). Just practicing against Alvin Robertson, Vern Fleming, obviously Jordan; it was just an amazing group of guys that I got to practice against, from a guard standpoint, every single day. “I told Alvin years later, it’s the only time that I’ve ever done any kind of hiding in practice, (if) I knew coach (Indiana and national team coach Bob Knight) was going into a drill where you were going to get matched up against somebody.”
How did Knight and Michael Jordan get along? Jeff Turner: Pretty well. Michael was Michael. His intensity certainly matched Coach Knight’s. I don’t remember Coach Knight getting on Michael as much. With the rest of us he didn’t spare anything. I don’t think anybody was immune from him getting on us or singling us out. I’m sure Michael would say Coach Knight got on him a little bit as well. But it really brought us all together because I think that’s part of what Coach Knight did. He was “The General,” right? He united his troops by treating us equally. He didn’t spare anyone. There was no favoritism or anything like that. If we needed to be screamed at, or whatever you want to call it, he didn’t pull any punches. So I think you’re kind of brought together in that sense. That was his style.