HAVANA, CUBA (Associated Press) In a move that stunned both college
basketball fans and geopolitical strategists in Washington, Cuban
President Fidel Castro announced today that, effective immediately,
he would be switching positions with Indiana University basketball
coach Bob Knight.
The switch, negotiated under the guise that Knight was lecturing at
a basketball coaches' conference in Havana, apparently received
immediate approval from the administration of Indiana University but
was met some resistence in the Cuban legislature. "The biggest
obstacle was the Cuban one-party legislature," said one source close
to the Knight negotiating team. "We found it very frustrating that
Fidel simply does not have the control over his country that Coach
Knight holds over the IU administration. The deal almost fell apart
until Coach Knight counseled President Castro on the proper
suppression of dissenters. That broke the logjam."
The controversial maneuver immediately drew mixed reactions in
Washington and in Overland Park, Kansas, home of the National
Collegiate Athletic Association. NCAA spokesman Lance Pugmire said
that NCAA officials looked forward to dealing with Castro, citing
"Mr. Castro's reasoned, sensible, approach to human relations that
will bring a fresh outlook to the Indiana University basketball
program." Reaction in Washington was less favorable, however, as
U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright told the Washington Post,
"It has long been the policy of the United States to support the
restoration of freedom in Cuba. The replacement of Castro with a
more hard-line, dictatorial regime does not bode well for U.S.-
Cuban relations." A spokesman for the Puerto Rican government
expressed distress at the move, claiming "The introduction of
such a destabilizing element into the Caribbean region is an
alarming development for all of Cuba's neighbors."
Analysts could not determine which man had gained most from the
exchange of positions, claiming each had inherited major problems.
Political analyst Norman Ornstein observed, "One the one hand,
one man will inherit a regime that has stagnated for years and
has been racked by turmoil and dissent after years of iron-
fisted control by one man who has clung to power long after the
glory years of his revolution have faded. On the other hand, Bob
Knight will need to learn a lot about sugar and tobacco production."
Castro, who rose to power by leading his people against what he
claimed was an international capitalist conspiracy that sought to
enslave the proletariat and destroy his regime, is said to have
told aides that he was troubled by some views held by Knight and
his followers. "When President Castro met with Coach Knight,"
said one official close to the negotiations, "Knight repeatedly
told Castro that the Nike Shoe Company, ESPN, and NCAA basketball
official Ted Valentine had once landed troops near Assembly Hall
on the Indiana University campus in an effort overthrow his
program." Knight allegedly warned Castro that, "These covert
operations, which Knight referred to by the code name ‘The Bay of
Cows,' must be guarded against at all times," said an advisor
close to Castro who would not be quoted on the record. After
leaving the negotiating session, the source said, Castro told his
aides, "It is tragic when an isolationist existence leads to such
paranoid reactions against reality."
While Castro's views on the use of the zone defense and a more
up-tempo offense were not immediately known, basketball analyst
Dick Vitale expressed enthusiasm for the change, claiming, "The
Generalissimo, Fidel Montgomery Castro, is an absolute genius,
baby, who is going to teach those players how to clean the glass
and handle the rock. Back when he was playing, the Generalissimo
could flat out shoot the trifecta."
Both political and basketball analysts expect the changes resulting
from the switch to become evident soon. Aides close to Knight
confirmed that Coach Knight and his assistants will wear red
military fatigues to all Cuban state functions. At the same time,
it was rumored that dissidents, known to be hiding in exile after
having fled the prior regime amidst claims of persecution, would
be offered asylum and permitted to return. Aides close to Castro
denied, however, that the new coach had been in contact with Jason
Collier or Luke Recker.