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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2002
John Feinstein wrote the book, made a quick fortune, eventually cashed a nice check for film rights, but the author is angry at what ESPN moviemakers did with A Season on the Brink, airing tonight with Brian Dennehy in the role of controversial, combustible basketball coach Bob Knight.
Seventeen years ago, the fireball in the red Indiana University sweater, winner of three national championships, granted Feinstein months of extensive access to the intriguing world of Robert Montgomery Knight.
Feinstein observed the General and his sneakered IU soldiers in moments triumphant and not, noting all that was said, assessing sweet-and-sour scenes in arenas, behind closed team doors and on the street. Feinstein wrote Brink and it was an enormous hit, selling a half-million copies.
Knight denounced the book, seething at Feinstein's heavy inclusion of the coach's profanity. Their relationship turned to ashes. But, far as I know, no one has claimed, from among Knight's fiercest supporters to his most acid critics, that Brink was anything but accurate.
Now comes the movie. Feinstein got a preview and labels it "a cartoon version of Knight," charging ESPN with "creating fictionalized scenes and even making up characters."
Feinstein said the coach's son, Patrick Knight, is grossly misrepresented. "They turned him into a wide-eyed, my-dad-is-the-greatest kid when Patrick was actually the only person who (in 1985) was giving it back to Bob."
Despite the coach's differences with the book -- Knight says he never read beyond the first chapter because of being quoted repeatedly using the f-word. Feinstein suggests, "If Bob took time to give it a quiet read, he should see that I showed both sides of him quite accurately. I think if Knight read the book, then watched the movie, he would feel my words were far more truthful to who he is than is this film."
In 2000, a mini-generation after Brink, there was a Bloomington blowup. Amid a barrage of charges regarding Knight's behavior, he was forced out at Indiana.
This season, the General is in a new basketball saddle at Texas Tech, where he quickly turned less-than-mediocre Red Raiders into a respectable team certain to receive an NCAA Tournament bid. Knight is a contender for national coach of the year.
"Life has been really good in Lubbock," he told the Times via telephone. "I'm working with wonderful people beginning with (athletic director) Gerald Myers. We play in what might be the best facility anywhere. Most everybody here seems excited and have been most supportive.
"Of course, the same media B.S. is occuring. Stuff is written that is often so shy on facts because it's about me. Writers who take the time to really look at what's going on have often been amazed at the total picture. Some of them were probably disappointed to learn how many things have been distorted. That is kind of amusing to me."
As for the movie, Knight said, "I've seen only what most everybody has (ESPN promos). It's bothersome what I have seen. I feel sorry for Brian Dennehy, who I've always admired as an actor. None of the scenes they used (in promos) really happened that way."
Dennehy, 63, is playing Knight at age 45. "Beyond him, there was really no casting," Feinstein said. "No one else has more than five lines in the movie. Dennehy is okay but the material he had wasn't very good."
Feinstein said Knight unquestionably has a warm, fuzzy side and "that is not fairly represented in the film," especially concerning Landon Turner, a 6-foot-11 Indiana player paralyzed from the chest down in an auto accident after the Hoosiers won the 1981 national championship.
Feinstein described a scene from the book in which Knight, in front of the team, calls Turner a derogatory name.
"Knight then ignored Turner while talking matchups for that night's game," Feinstein said. "But when his players left the room, Bob walked over and shook hands, saying softly, 'Landon, your grip is getting really strong. You been working out?'
"Turner proudly said he had. Knight checked the kid's biceps, talking about how good Landon looked. He asked how school was going (Turner was getting his degree). Bob said, 'Try to make the game Thursday (against Michigan). The guys love seeing you.' I swear I had tears in my eyes. That scene is pretty much blown in the movie."
Feinstein told another cuddly anecdote, about when he and Knight were eating breakfast in an Indianapolis restaurant and a young man approached the coach with an older brother and their father.
"His name was Garland Loper," the author said, "and he explained that his family members were deaf mutes.
"Bob signed autographs. He chatted them up with Garland as intermediary. Knight got their address, sent them Hoosiers gear. He invited them to a game. Before tipoff, Knight had the family in the locker room and told players they could learn a lot about guts and toughness from the Lopers. How could the film not capture that?"
So, tonight, America again watches Bob Knight, or at least a movie perception. I wonder, when Dennehy rants, how much truly happened and what might've been created by some screen writer. Wouldn't you think, with Knight's always crusty and massively successful and oft-combative history, that filmakers need not make up anything?
-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.