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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 1:00 am

ESPN film takes closer look into Knight firing

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

It’s been close to 18 years since former Indiana University President Myles Brand fired Bob Knight as head men’s basketball coach. In that time, almost every fan and observer of Indiana basketball has made up their mind about whether the firing was justified.

Watching ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, “Last Days of Knight,” which went live on the network’s new streaming service, ESPN+, on Thursday, will probably not change many viewers’ minds one way or the other on that question. What the film does bring in to sharper focus is context around the story; director Robert Abbott was the CNN/Sports Illustrated reporter who broke the story about Knight putting his hand on Neil Reed’s throat in practice.

The story spends its first 20-odd minutes on the background of Knight’s career – his start at Army, his three national titles, his immense power at Indiana for nearly three decades – before homing in on the incident with Reed and how that story became public. Abbott was assigned a story about why three McDonald’s All-Americans – Reed, Jason Collier and Luke Recker – had transferred from Indiana in a two-year span.

Abbott talked to Reed and heard about the altercation in practice just three days after he got assigned the piece, but it took him nine months to convince the former Hoosier guard to tell the story on camera.

From there, most of the film explains how the story came together and the effect it had in convincing Brand to place Knight on a zero-tolerance policy that eventually got the coach fired when he violated it.

What’s striking in watching the story unfold nearly two decades after it happened is the way in which almost everyone associated with the basketball program closed ranks around Knight. The coach’s vast power, not just over the basketball team but over the university as a whole, is on display as personnel from both deny the incident ever occurred or attack the credibility of both Reed and Abbott. 

The description of Reed as a weak-minded player who simply couldn’t take playing for an intense coach was particularly jarring after the film showed footage of the guard playing against Michigan with a severely injured shoulder, followed by a quote from Knight – before Reed decided to transfer – calling him the only tough player on the team. Abbott did a superb job of showing how reluctant Reed, who died in 2012, was to tell the story to the world.

The film is something like the Indiana basketball version of “Spotlight,” the 2015 movie about of how the Boston Globe broke the story of a Catholic archdiocese covering up child molestation.