Here Be Dragons—Bonefishing with Bob Knight, By Kevin Koenig (continued)
Photos by Billy Black
Spurred on by his reading interests, we began talking about D-Day. I asked if he could name the beaches. “Sword, Gold, Utah,” he rattled off, before losing the others.
“Juno,” I offered.
“Juno! Good one! What’s the last, though?”
“C’mon man, you know this one. It’s the easy one.”
Knight shook his head, perplexed.
“Nah, that’s not it.”
“Yes it is man, that was the beach. The heaviest fighting, Saving Private Ryan and all that.”
“No, mm-mm, that’s not it. It’s not Omaha.”
Then he said something as Eagle Eye Fred fired up the engine to move us somewhere else, but I lost it in the wind.
“What did you say?” I shouted, my hand cupping my mouth.
“I’m not repeating it, you shoulda been listening.”
“The wind was blowing!”
“Well, anyone can listen when the wind’s not blowing!”
As we buzzed over the clear blues and soapy greens of the Bimini flats, Knight went back to World War II, expressing amazement that the Germans did such horrible things under the guise of following orders.
I asked him if he was familiar with the psychologist Stanley Milgram, and his theories on the authoritarian personality, which typically shows great respect and even blind obedience to authority but can be demanding, even cruel, toward subordinates. I was drawing a not-so-subtle line for the famous disciplinarian, if I’m being honest.
“Never heard of him,” Knight parried. “And if you ask me, most psychologists need psychologists.”
The conversation went on as we wove our way through the canals that lace the inner Bimini mangrove forests like so many capillaries. It’s really beautiful in there. Twenty-foot-wide passageways twist and turn through the thick green leaves, and the water is as clear as the air. I got out my GoPro and started filming the scenery as the conversation between Knight and I jumped through centuries of military history, with Knight deftly recounting strategies and battles from Pickett’s Charge to Pointe du Hoc. I turned the camera around on us to record the conversation, because the scene was just so surreal and interesting.
But the topic veered quickly, as it often does with Knight, and soon he was no longer talking about military history but instead about something rather personal to him. It was true insight — honest and searching. And it was sensitive. I glanced at the camera in my hand two feet in front of our faces. A thought flickered across my brain. Does he know I’m recording this?
Five seconds later, Knight stopped abruptly and leaned his whole huge body over mine. “Are you f**king recording this!”
This was not Bobby Knight busting my balls. This was Bobby Knight being capital “F” Furious. He lit into me, eyes blazing, curses flying. “I don’t like you people, the media,” he roared. “I never know what you’re up to! And I don’t like being around ya!” (Incredibly awkward in retrospect, since we were in a tiny boat out in the middle of the water with a man named Eagle Eye Fred standing three feet behind us pretending he didn’t know what was going on — but I digress.)
I’d like to pretend that I was coolly detached and writerly as Knight fumed at me out on those flats. But that wouldn’t be the whole truth. I’m a 33-year-old man, grown in full. I pride myself on my physicality. I was an all-state linebacker in high school, I’ve eulogized my father, and I can tell you what it’s like to watch the sunrise from behind the bars of a Mexican prison. But in that moment, as Knight sat there lighting the world on fire, I felt as if I were 8 years old.
And the worst part was I knew I was in the wrong. The camera hadn’t exactly been hidden — far from it actually, it was quite literally right under our noses — but I also should have been more clear that I was recording once he veered into the personal stuff. So I removed my sunglasses, looked him in the eye, and offered my most sincere apology.
Knight wasn’t having it.
He shut down for almost a full hour and didn’t say a word to me. He slapped at the water with his line occasionally, but the little bonefish ran away as fast as they could. He cursed more, he grumbled a lot. But mostly he was silent. I stared longingly at the shore. The sun blazed down on both of us.
Eagle Eye Fred received a call. The photographer wanted us to rendezvous with Apte and Havlicek for pictures. We turned the boat around, and as the engines started up, I decided to throw up a prayer, trying to rekindle a dialogue. “Hey,” I said to him, “You still only have six of your eight guys picked out for your all-time team.”
Knight just looked over at me coldly, then down at his fingernails. Then he folded his arms and ducked his head into the wind.
After we took the pictures, we headed back to the same place to keep fishing. As the boat slowed to a halt I knew I had to apologize again. This time Knight was ever so slightly more accepting, if not exactly open to the possibility of a future friendship.
“You know,” he said, “I’m sure your mother taught you not to videotape people when they don’t know they’re being recorded.”
I was over the whole thing and not particularly tickled that he brought my mother into it. “I’m sure my mother never taught me anything about videotape etiquette, Bob,” I shot back.
“Well … it’s impolite.”
Another half hour grinded by in hot silence. I was focused on how the hell I was going to write this story after the main subject had stopped talking to me after a day and a half. And that’s when Knight shifted in his chair, cleared his throat, and reached out to pat my back avuncularly. “You know,” he paused, releasing a slow, controlled exhale. “I think you were right about Omaha Beach.”
And we were back in business. Soon he was regaling me about that incident down in Puerto Rico when he may or may not have assaulted a police officer. “I never punched that guy!” He cackled. “You shoulda seen him in the courtroom, he said I took four crow hops and wound up and punched him in his face! No such thing happened! We were in the locker room and he was being rude to Krzyzewski, and I came over and I was trying to separate the two of them, and all I did to that cop was this!” And with that Bobby Knight started mooshing the side of my head with an open hand, pushing me away from him with force. “Open-handed! It wasn’t a punch!”
And all I could do was laugh.
Shortly after that, Knight finally caught a fish. It was the barracuda that had been chasing his bones all day. It turns out barracuda aren’t afraid of Bob Knight.
Oh and by the way, that portion of the video with the sensitive stuff on it? It’s as gone as yesterday’s wind, and as for what was on it, I’ll never tell …
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Anglers Journal, available here ▶