Billy Knight ready for a new challenge
By Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis (Nov. 10, 2011) -- Billy Knight has enjoyed being at home in Atlanta, spending time with his family and friends, getting some things done around the house.
Which is not to say he'd like to do it for the rest of his life.
It has been three years since the former Pacers star stepped down as the General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks, and he's ready for a new challenge.
"In a lot of ways it was good so step away and evaluate things and yourself and your situations, get a look at other teams and see how they are doing things, to get another perspective on everything. I've enjoyed it," he said. "I've had more time at home and my daughters are in college and all of those sorts of things have made it OK.
"I've done about every honey-do thing I can do at home, taking on all these landscaping projects around the yard and different projects in the house. It's time to get back to work."
In six seasons at the helm in Atlanta, Knight built a team with a promising young core of talent that ended a nine-year playoff drought in 2008. He resigned after that season but has remained in the city. He considers his years with the Hawks a positive experience in large part because he left behind a much-improved team.
After averaging 16.9 points in 11 seasons, including eight with the Pacers in the ABA and NBA, Knight joined Bob Hill's coaching staff in 1990 and made the transition into the front office. He filled a variety of roles, working in community relations and broadcasting, eventually rising to vice president of basketball operations under former team President Donnie Walsh.
"Donnie's one of the few mentors that I've ever had," he said. "He brought me in the organization and took me under his wing and taught me a lot about the business side of basketball and the front office side. Donnie's been like a big brother or a father figure, whatever you want to call it, to me that I look up to and call for mentorship and insights and all those sorts of things.
"I keep in touch with him constantly about everything -- how he's doing, how he's feeling, what's going on around the world. … I'm eternally grateful for him even getting me involved. I played in Europe after I played in the league and I was sitting at home one day and he called and asked me to come down and talk to him. So I started doing some community relations, some in-studio hosting of the games and things like that. And that's what got me started in the front office."
He spent two seasons with the Grizzlies, one in Vancouver and one in Memphis, but was replaced by Jerry West in 2002. Knight then took a similar job in Atlanta.
Still relatively young and energetic, the 59-year-old Knight believes he has benefited tremendously from the learning experiences offered by his previous jobs.
"You gain more knowledge every day, every time you do something," he said. "You just know more because you've been through things. Even going around to different teams, talking to other people and looking at how they do things, you take a little piece of that or you realize your piece of something was good, all of those things add up to where you are today.
"I definitely feel like I'm more knowledgeable than I was before. You gain a different perspective going through the life experiences, another draft, another free agency period, all of those things add knowledge to your base. It makes you more prepared to handle any situation that comes along in the future. It's good to have gone through years and years of working in different organizations, seeing different ways of doing things, whether it was Vancouver, Memphis, Indiana, Atlanta -- I gained a lot of experience from all of those times."
Knight joined the Pacers as a player as the ABA was entering its final seasons. The Pacers reached the ABA Finals in his rookie season of 1974-75 but as key players were traded away, Knight stepped to the forefront, averaging 28.1 points and 10.1 rebounds the next season, finishing second to Julius Erving in the scoring race.
In the team's first season after the NBA-ABA merger, Knight averaged 26.6 points, finishing second in the league in scoring once again -- this time to Pete Maravich -- and along with Don Buse became the franchise's first NBA All-Stars.
Traded to Buffalo for Adrian Dantley and Mike Bantom prior to the 1977-78 season, Knight's career took a downturn when he suffered a knee injury that required surgery -- and in those days, the procedures were comparably archaic. There were no arthroscopies allowing for speedy and complete recoveries. Knight still has a four-inch scar on his knee from his operation. When he returned he was a solid player but not able to be as consistently prolific as his early years.
But he did help prove the talent level of the players that joined the NBA from the ABA, helping the Pacers establish needed credibility.
"It just makes you always want to prove yourself," he said. "The ABA was looked on as inferior and all of that so we always felt like we had to play really well because we were ABA guys when we came in the league. When the merger happened we were really proud to come into the NBA, obviously, but also were proud of the fact that so many of us made the All-Star team and things like that. That was really an accomplishment."
It was just one of many in a career that, like the man, has been marked by quiet, consistent achievement.