On Thursday evening during his rally in Indiana, Donald Trump mentioned his friend Bobby Knight repeatedly, describing him as a "winner" among other things. It might have seemed like a random callout, given that Knight is a former Indiana University basketball coach. But it's actually not all that strange, given Knight's endorsement of Trump during the 2016 election. In fact, Knight has become something of a political crusader for the GOP in the years since he finished coaching.
Knight has appeared with Trump on two separate occasions as a "booster," per The Indianapolis Star. He has also endorsed three other candidates for varying positions, all Republicans, from Tennessee, Maryland, and Delaware, respectively.
But Knight doesn't view himself as a GOP booster. “What the hell is a Republican?” Knight said of his campaign work in a 2016 interview with Time. “What the hell is a Democrat? I don’t care. I’ve always urged people to make sure you vote for the right guy.”
Knight told Time that his relationship with Trump began over the phone. In early 2016, Knight reportedly called Trump and told him the nation needed him to run for president. “I just told him I thought that we needed him,” Knight said. “That right now, in this moment in time, he was the man who should be in charge. He should be the guy that can get us back to where we want to be.”
According to Knight, Trump replied, “Coach, I know exactly how I want you involved. And when the time comes, I will give you a call and we’ll go from there.”
Knight officially endorsed Trump in April 2016, a few months after that phone call. At an Indiana rally, Knight said, "You folks are taking a look at the most prepared man in history to step in as president of the United States, that man right there. There has never been a presidential candidate prepared to the length that this man is."
He continued on to compare Trump to a founding father, saying,
I want you to know you have this great opportunity to push him over the top as soon as you can and putting him in the best position that this country has been in, getting going where we all want to be. You people, if you will do that, if you will get us started on the road, I'm going to tell you what's going to happen to you. They're going to take all you people, what you did to give us Donald Trump, they're going to take all you people and put you right next to our founding fathers in George Washington.
Knight has stuck by Trump ever since, a feat of support that was made clear by the glowing remarks Trump bestowed upon him in return on Thursday night. Trump reiterated the story of their shared fateful phone call, saying, "A year before I was going to run, Bobby Knight called, [and said], 'Trump! This is Bobby Knight and you gotta run for president. Our country needs you.' And I said, 'That's Bobby Knight. That's Bobby Knight. Right? That's Bobby Knight.' After the first word, I knew it was Bobby Knight."
"We love winners," Trump said immediately after sharing his Knight story, to loud cheers from the Indiana audience.