FORT WAYNE – The news made you gasp, when it hit the web more than a week ago now. Neil Reed? You mean that Neil Reed?
What was he doing turning up in an Indianapolis Star headline that read Former Indiana Basketball Player Neil Reed Dies At Age 36?
But there was the headline and there was the story – Reed, a freshman basketball coach at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, Calif., had died of cardiac arrest – and shortly thereafter, nanoseconds, perhaps, all of that ugliness came flooding back.
Reeds accusations. The grainy videotape. Indiana coach Bob Knights hand on Reeds throat and/or neck, and then the last sad days of a regime built on genius and accomplishment and rage and paranoia.
No one was more adept than Knight at fighting enemies only he could see, nor at the same time saw more clearly what college athletics should and should not be. It was one of the many paradoxes of a man defined by paradox – up to and including the fact that the beginning of his end as one of Indiana Universitys best and worst assets was precipitated by yet another paradox.
Neil Reed, after all, was the son of a coach who grew up worshipping the Coach and never wanted anything so much as to play basketball at Indiana. And yet his legacy there was to play an unwitting role in bringing everything he loved to ruin.
If the whole business was Greek tragedy, Reeds part in it was especially poignant. No one will remember his 72 starts and 9.8 points per game in the service of IU hoops. What theyll remember, wrongly, is this: Hes the kid who drove the Man over the edge.
The more deranged of the Knight cultists reviled him for that and reveled when his teammates voted him off the team. Given Knights iron control over his program, you can likely put as much stock in that vote as your average Soviet election, but its part of the narrative now.
Neil Reed, the kid who loved The Program like few others, is the kid The Programs most zealous supporters wound up blaming in part for The Programs downfall. Thats the narrative. That the supporters were patently delusional, absolving as they did Knights responsibility for his own actions, scarcely lessens the irony of it all.
The kid loved IU hoops, and IU hoops, for reasons that will forever be debated, didnt love him back. Thats the sadness of all this, aside from the obvious sadness of Reeds dying far too young and leaving a wife and two young daughters behind.
And the happiness?
If there is any here, its that, as with most college kids, Reeds life wasnt wholly defined by something that happened in college.
He went on to play at Southern Miss for James Green, who told Sports Illustrated last week that he was a winner who was good to coach and did the things that it takes to win ball games. In 2007, he got a job at Pioneer teaching PE and coaching football, basketball and golf.
Apparently he left an impact there, too.
There are a lot of single-parent families in this area and a lot the boys around here really looked up to coach Reed as a father figure, Pioneer Valley coach Eddie Hernandez told the Star when Reed passed.
In other words: Hell be missed.
And thats the legacy worth remembering here.