With Bob Knight, what you see is what you get, and there are those who have found something to admire in that. They point to a certain integrity in his refusing to be anything other than what he really is, in refusing to bow and scrape to self-denigrating conventions. And he definitely is not a phony.
But Knight's behavior has gone beyond some rare sense of inviolable personal dignity. In the end, the man is a bully. It is not just that he has warned others not to tread on him. He has treaded on them. He has treated others as if only he counted and they did not. He has bowled them over with his forceful personality. A big, strong man, he has intimidated them physically. He has been abusive to players, reporters, office workers and others, and although he is 59, he still seems unable to quell his temper tantrums.
Maybe he would have learned to control himself if he had been held to ordinary rules of conduct earlier in his career. But until lately he has been a winner, one of the best in college basketball, a man who brought Indiana University three national championships, and the university was not about to trespass on his ego.
After all, the risk at that time would have been to lose the coach, to lose games and to lose all that follows in the train of such athletic success, including alumni support, student enthusiasm and money, money and more money. Would Knight have been fired this past weekend if NCAA tournament victories had not been so hard to come by the past several seasons? Maybe not, though it is impossible to know for sure.
It is clear, though, that the university did finally make the right decision. Four months ago, the university compelled him to agree to a zero-tolerance behavior policy, and since then, the university's president told the press, Knight has failed to attend public-relations events, quarreled with the school's athletic director, castigated top university officials and refused to comply with simple requests.
Recently, instead of ignoring a student who said, ''Hey, what's up, Knight?,'' the coach took hold of the young man's arm and lectured him. The issue of this kind of physical contact is not something minor, whether it was a tight ''grab'' or not, for Knight was in trouble in part because of a history of hitting, shoving and choking. A second-chance policy of zero tolerance either means zero tolerance or it means nothing.
All of this matters because college sports attracts so much attention in this country, making this competition an important stage on which the nation's values are acted out. There could be little worse than saying in effect that people on this stage should be allowed to get away with just about anything if they are in privileged positions and still adored by thousands who will take to the streets and demonstrate ignominiously on behalf of their idols. It is sad that Knight's career - exceptional in so many undeniably positive ways - had to end in disgrace, but the fault is his alone.