BLOOMINGTON, IND. – Bob Knight's short walk from the practice room to the assembly hall ended a 20-year journey home.
It seemed like he had never left.
When the former Indiana Hoosiers coach walked through the tunnel onto his old pitch for the first time since his release in September 2000, the crowd went wild – sang his name, roared with approval, and thanked him for the success and the banners he brought to Bloomington.
"It was one of the biggest and most emotional things for me," said former player Randy Wittman, who played a key role in reunification. "I don't know if we'll see anything like that in college basketball again. When he moved back here, I told him you were back here because you belong here."
The sold-out crowd and dozens of former players praised Knight after watching a video of Knight's posts.
He came in with his son Pat. He hugged Isiah Thomas. Quinn Buckner helped him into the arena. And the 79-year-old Knight reveled in the moment, pumped his fist and pretended to conduct Scott May in a practice session, and even led fans in a chorus of "De-Fense, De-Fense".
No, he wasn't wearing a red sweater and wasn't throwing a chair. But when the fans cheered, he seemed to get a little foggy eyes.
"We love you, Bobby," one called.
Knight didn't talk to the crowd about the PA system. He didn't need that.
Everyone present understood what the flammable trainer had on his 29-year CV: a school record of 662 wins, 11 Big Ten championships, five final four appearances and three national titles.
They also knew some of the stories – the Olympic gold medal that he won with Michael Jordan in 1984 after editing Charles Barkley; the infamous chair throw in 1985; and the fire that took place on September 10, 2000, causing the rift between Knight and the university.
University officials imposed a zero tolerance policy on Knight earlier this year after investigating whether he had suffocated a former player, the late Neil Reed, during a training session. Then, in September, a student accused Knight of having packed him in a hallway.
Knight replied by calling his own press conference and bringing witnesses to explain his version. Two days later, the late Myles Brand Knights announced dismissal.
That was his last public appearance in the building – until Saturday.
Despite the tireless efforts of university officials, led by sports director Fred Glass, Knight declined every chance to come back.
He skipped championship team reunions and even refused to participate in his own admission to the school's Hall of Fame in 2009 because he didn't want his presence to distract other class members.
The thaw started last spring with a surprising appearance at a baseball game in Indiana. In July, he bought a house three miles from the basketball arena.
"I visited Coach in Montana and Texas," said former player and Knicks coach Mike Woodson. "This is home. I spent the last month here in Bloomington with him and had dinner with him a couple of times, and we were pretty damn happy that he wanted to come back."
Knight hadn't really been invisible near Bloomington or the state after the shoot.
He took over the Texas Tech job and retired in 2008 with a record 902 career wins. He worked as a color analyst at ESPN. He gave speeches, participated in fundraisers, signed autographs, and participated in basketball games and exercises in Indiana.
He just didn't associate with the Hoosiers.
He also spoke at a Donald Trump rally in October 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and at another Trump rally in November 2018 on the south side of Indianapolis.
And yet, everyone involved in Indiana basketball had a question: will he ever come back?
"When he returned here, I knew he was in a good place," said Wittman. "I knew he was happy and lived here, and I told him you belong here."
It wasn't long before the rumors started.
Some expected his return to Ohio, his alma mater, to take place on January 11th. Instead, he attended a game that day at Marian University, a NAIA school in Indianapolis, where another former player, Steve Downing, is the sports director.
But when the Hoosiers sat in the front row against their biggest rival, Purdue, longtime friend and rival Gene Keady, and his 1980 Big Ten championship team was honored on Saturday, Knight made it to the Assembly Hall and gave one of his traditional speeches the game in the presence of Hoosier before their 74-62 loss to the Boilermakers.
"I stood there and he was coach Knight," said Wittman. "It was as if he hadn't left this locker room. The words he gave these players before they hit the floor were fabulous."
The fans also thought that and sent Knight home with a permanent song: "Thank you, coach, thank you, coach."