Accumulating Wealth in Your Investment Portfolio
Peach Basket Parables: Indiana University,
Bob Knight, and the Motion Offense
In Indiana, the love of basketball has a name: It is called Hoosier Hysteria. It is not limited to the Hoosiers of Indiana University (IU) or the annual high school state tournament that goes by that name. The euphoria surrounding the game extends to other Indiana colleges such as Notre Dame, Indiana State, Purdue, Butler, Ball State (mentioned here as a nod to noted alum David Letterman), and Valparaiso, and it is palpable throughout the state at every level, from stuffy junior high gyms to the Pacers’ pro arena.
Hoosiers have reveled in basketball glory nearly as long as the game has existed. But in 1971, a man rode into town carrying a personality big enough to overshadow Hoosier Hysteria. His name was Robert Montgomery Knight, the brash former Army head coach who had come to take the helm at IU.
Skip ahead forty years or so, and Knight (now retired) has a well-deserved dual reputation as one of college basketball’s most successful and sometimes most notorious coaches of all time. He is considered successful because he won 902 Division I basketball games, eleven conference titles, three NCAA championships, one NIT championship, an Olympic gold medal, and a Pan Am Games gold medal, among other achievements. And he is considered notorious because Knight is as well-known for his fiery temper as he is for his coaching and teaching genius.
A 1976 People Magazine article summed it up in this headline: “Bobby Knight throws tantrums, kicks chairs – and wins basketball games.” In many respects, the volatile Knight was the antithesis of the gentleman philosopher John Wooden. Knight’s unofficial curriculum vitae includes verbally abusing referees, throwing chairs across the court, physically accosting his players and other coaches, and unleashing profanity-laden tirades against anyone who tested his patience.
He showed a particular disdain for members of the sports media, once calling their profession “one or two steps above prostitution.” In at least one news conference, Knight told a reporter, “All of us learn to write in the second grade; most of us go on to greater things.”
While you didn’t want to be on Knight’s bad side, his no-nonsense style and passion for basketball earned him a level of respect among his players and fans. And there’s still no denying that his impact on the game was monumental.
On the Attack
Perhaps it is fitting that Knight, with his often offensive public persona, played a major role in changing the way American teams play offense in basketball games. He is widely credited with developing and popularizing the free-flowing style known as the motion offense, which has since been emulated and adapted by coaches at every level of play.
Today’s basketball fans might think of the motion offense as commonplace, but it was innovative in Knight’s early years.
Most teams that ran any organized offense relied on one-off plays or a continuity offense, where players execute a repeating pattern of predefined movements. Each player sets up in the same spot every time, sets the same screen, runs to the same corner, and so on, until they wind up back where they began and the play starts over. These types of offenses have their advantages, but their biggest weaknesses are predictability and a lack of flexibility. If something’s not working, it’s hard to change.
A motion offense is far less rigid. Players are given the freedom to read the defense and choose the action that will give them the best chance to score. Rather than stick to a defined path like a trolley car on rails, they move like fluid along the path of least resistance. Pass and screen. Drive and dish. Flash to the high post. Curl and flare to the elbow. Take what the defense gives you. Options, options, options.
To the untrained eye, the motion offense might appear completely random. But there are rules (Knight’s rules) that players must follow. These dictates include an emphasis on proper spacing (always be fifteen feet from the next guy), timing (hold your Spot for two seconds then move on), and constant movement (never just stand and watch).
Aside from its limitless adaptability, the beauty of the motion offense is its ability to utilize the strengths of all five players on the floor simultaneously. Unlike set plays designed to get an open shot for a particular player, in the motion offense, the ball can get to the basket in any number of ways. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
The Perfect Season
Bob Knight’s three championship teams at Indiana provide a case in point. His rosters were not built around individual offensive juggernauts such as Wilt Chamberlain or Lew Alcindor. Knight recruited intelligent (if not supremely athletic) players who understood that a solid screen or a perfect pass could be just as valuable as a pretty jump shot.
As Knight perfected his system, IU improved its record every season through his first five years as head coach. In 1974-1975, the Hoosiers finished the regular season 29-0. But they entered the NCAA Tournament without their best player, Scott May, who had broken his arm just weeks earlier. They made it to the Elite Eight before falling to Kentucky.
That loss, however, was only the intermission in what Knight eventually called “a two-year quest.” The next season, with May back in the lineup alongside co-captain Quinn Buckner, the Hoosiers were literally unbeatable. They started and finished the regular season as they had the previous year, waltzing past most opponents and narrowly escaping defeat a few times. Come March, they entered the NCAA Tournament at full strength, again with an undefeated record.
The dominant Hoosiers sailed through all but one of their five tournament games, winning by an average of thirteen points, and ousting Big Ten rival Michigan by eighteen in the championship game. The Hoosiers had won their third national championship (Knight’s first) with a record of 32-0. It wasn’t the first time a college basketball team had a perfect season (Wooden’s UCLA Bruins did it four times), but as of 2013, no one has done it since the 1976 Hoosiers.
Knight’s innovative motion offense does not deserve all the credit, of course. Indiana also had a lock-down defense, usually man to man. But one thing is for sure: Those Hoosiers had the offensive freedom, flexibility, and diversity to pile up the points, no matter what their opponents threw at them.
- At the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta, the seventy-fifth NCAA Tournament, more than 250,000 fans voted to name the 1976 Hoosiers the greatest tournament team of all time.
- Until recently, Bob Knight, with 902 victories, held the record for the most victories by a men’s coach in NCAA Division 1 history. In 2011, the record was broken by another famous coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (featured in chapter 9). Where did Coach K play his college ball? Army, where his coach was Bob Knight.
Chapter-Ending Three Pointer
- List your age, portfolio time horizon, and liquidity needs, and describe your risk tolerance in terms that make sense to you.
- Consider whether stocks, mutual funds, separately managed accounts, or a combination of them are appropriate.
- Spend time understanding the basics of long-term portfolio allocations and how they impact volatility.
© 2014 Chuck Thoele
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.