KRAVITZ: "The Last Days of Knight" is neither a love letter nor a hit piece, but it’s must-watch TV – especially for Hoosiers

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Bob Kravitz

If you were hoping for a Bob Knight hagiography, all sticky-sweet hosannas to Knight's greatness as a head basketball coach, you will walk away from the soon-to-be-released ESPN documentary, "The Last Days of Knight," in a huff.

If you were hoping for a Bob Knight hit piece, all of it focusing on Knight's personal excesses and volatility and general bull-headedness, you will walk away from the documentary, which premiered Wednesday night at Flix Brewhouse in Carmel, in a huff.

If you were hoping, though, for a balanced look at the bizarre final months of the Knight Era, if you want to know more about the people and the events who shaped those strange days leading up to Knight's firing, you will walk away from the documentary exponentially smarter about how it all came to pass and why.

"The Last Days of Knight," which will be released April 12 on the on-demand service ESPN+, is a must-see documentary, one that tells the story from the vantage point of the director/narrator Robert Abbott, who was the CNN reporter at the center of the Neil Reed choking story. This is not a Knight biography, nor does it intend to be a Knight biography. Instead, it's a reporter's first-hand look at how it all came together and how it all then came apart for Knight, how a story about the transfers of three top players – Neil Reed, Jason Collier and Luke Recker – turned into something very different, something that struck at the very core of Hoosier Nation's tortured love affair with its complex head coach.

On the subject of Knight, everybody is dug in. There remain the true believers who insist that the ends justified the means, that on balance, he was more of a blessing to the university and the community than he was a curse. There remain people like me, who believe he was an unrepentant bully, that he failed to change with the times and that he was fully culpable in his August 2000 firing.

There's no middle ground on Knight, just as there's no middle ground on President Donald Trump, a man Knight supported and worked for during the campaign.

In some ways, it's embarrassing to watch the way my alma mater let itself get pushed around by Knight all those years. Who was running IU back in those days? It's simple: Bob Knight was. I can say with some pride that I was a pretty consistent thorn in Knight's side during my time there, but by and large, Knight was given a wide swath and could do just about anything and everything he wanted to do. Absolute power corrupted absolutely, and for the most part, there was nobody inside the school, outside of Dr. Murray Sperber, who was willing to speak truth to that power. This is not just a story of how and why Knight fell; it's a story of how journalism, which is under siege these days, stepped in and revealed an ugly and inconvenient truth.

The documentary does a lot exceedingly well in the re-telling of the final months of Knight's tenure, but the piece is emotionally tethered to Reed, who passed away at age 36 from heart failure in 2012. I defy anybody to watch this and remain convinced that Reed was some kind of soft touch who sought revenge on Knight because he didn't have the fortitude to handle the head coach's abusive ways. Abbott does a remarkable job of humanizing Reed, especially through the words of Reed's wife.

The documentary begins gently, detailing Knight's greatness and his heart for those he respects and loves. As Abbott later said during a post-film Q and A, he began his reporting back in 1999 thinking that the kids who transferred out of IU were simply too soft to handle the task-master head coach. But as he began his deep reportorial dive into the story, he learned otherwise, and gained a great appreciation for Reed and those who stood by Reed (Ricky Calloway among them) in their criticisms of Knight.

Through his reporting, Abbott learned what we've all known for quite some time: Knight was capable of great kindnesses and terrible malevolence. And now he remains consumed by bitterness, unwilling to put his own issues aside to celebrate the great players who helped provide him with three national titles.

Eighteen years after Knight's unceremonious exit, he remains a flashpoint in the state's eternal debate: Was the firing justified? If you think it was, this documentary won't change your mind. If you think it wasn't, this documentary won't change your mind. There are just some subjects where no middle ground seems to exist. That said, it's a documentary that cannot be dismissed. Watch it and make up your own mind. If you haven't already.

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