When Tom met Bob

photo via Chris Howell | Herald-Times

A Letter From Bob Knight To Landon Turner

Bobby Knight instructs Landon Turner during a Dec. 22, 1979 game versus North Carolina.
(photo courtesy of IU Archives Photograph Collection.)

On the evening of his induction to the IU Hall of Fame, former IU basketball great, Landon Turner, was delivered the following letter from his former coach, Bob Knight, by former Herald-Times sports editor & longtime Knight friend, Bob Hammel:

For over two years as a member of our basketball team, you were a monumental pain in the ass. You were a kid with enormous talent — oh, and you had some great moments that helped us win some games and championships, the NIT final game was one of those. But times like that only made more frustrating all of those much more frequent times when you didn’t come close to playing to your abilities in a consistent way.
I had just about given up on you as a player who could be counted on to play his best in every game. Then, on Feb. 12, 1981, in our 23rd game of your junior year, we were playing Northwestern at home. Steve Downing and I were going to tell your great parents after the game that we no longer thought you could help our team. Then, with nine minutes to go in that Northwestern game with us about 30 points ahead, I finally put you in the game — and you immediately missed a block-out and gave up a basket. Of course I took you out of the game, but for some reason I don’t understand I put you right back in. For the next 8 and a half minutes you did it — you played to the full extent of your abilities, and it was a joy to watch.
After the game, Steve and I met with your Dad and Mother. Our original plan had been to draft a letter that would make you eligible for the NBA Draft. After the way you had played, before we brought up the letter I asked you a question: “Landon, what keeps you from playing that way all the time?” You said, “I don’t know, Coach, but I would like the chance to try.”
From our next practice through the final game in the NCAA tournament, you were the best player in the country. Our team could not and would not have won the national championship without the way you played. You did a complete turn-around, not only as a player but also as a student. I have never seen anyone make that complete a change in his approach to life.
Then came your summertime accident on the way to King’s Island. Only through great will and determination did you even survive. Your life was changed forever, and you would never experience what you were going to be as a basketball player — the best in the country.
But what you did become, Landon, is the most amazing human being — the greatest example of dealing with and overcoming adversity — that I have ever known. There is no player of all the great, great kids that I have coached that I respect more than you.
My favorite moment as a coach was seeing you become the player I thought you could be. My worst moment as a coach was learning that you would not have a senior season.
And you also gave me my most unforgettable and meaningful moment on a basketball court. It was at one of our Senior Days. You had come down to be part of it — I always appreciated that — and you were in your wheelchair on the court behind me when on the spur of the moment I asked all the former IU players in the stands that day to stand. Then I thought of you, looked back, and needled you as always: “Landon, aren’t you going to stand up?”
You gave me that great big smile and said, “Coach, I am standing, in my heart.”
That, I’ll never forget.
Congratulations for this wonderful recognition and honor, Landon. You deserve to be up on that wall, as a continuing reminder of a great young basketball player whose future changed in a minute and — after a lot of tears and family time, I’m sure — just said, “Well, that’s the way it’s going to be. I’ll make the best of it.”
And you have.