On Feb. 23, 1985, then-Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight was ejected from a game after throwing a chair onto the court. While Knight was known for his short temper, this incident became one of the most well-known outbursts in sports history.
Sharing the court with Knight that game was current Westlake resident Phil Bova. Just nine years into what went on to be a 30-year career officiating Big-10 conference college basketball games, Bova had the basis of his first book without even knowing it at the time.
Now, nearly 35 years after that fateful toss, Bova’s account of that night and many more instances can be found in his book, “Throwing Back the Chair.”
“I’ve had a blessed career,” Bova, 73, said. “I look back at all the wonderful people, all the great coaches, great players, great places and great games and I said, we might have something here.”
For years, Bova said friends and family pushed him to write a book, and he pushed back. He didn’t know how many people would be interested.
When later approached by longtime friend Nino Frostino about working together on the collection of stories, Bova opened up to the idea. But it even took Frostino, who grew up on the same street as Bova and went to school with his son and daughter, some time to change his mind.
“I had been after him for years,” Frostino said. “He would always tell me stories about, ‘Here’s who did this today,’ and ‘John Chaney did that’ and ‘Bobby Knight did this.’ He’s got that personality that just has you laughing hysterically when he tells you these stories.
“We collaborated on something else a couple of years back and I kind of brought it up again and I think he finally got to a point where he said, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s give it a shot and have some fun with it,’” Frostino added.
Starting in January 2018, Frostino met with Bova nearly once a week and recorded and listened to his stories. The book released in August to much success.
Frostino, who wrote the book, said nearly every story told made it into the book and that he wanted to capture Bova’s essence in his writing.
“We probably have 20-25 hours worth of audio, maybe even more, that we just sat and talked and laughed,” Frostino said. “I came up with as many questions as I could to turn it into a story rather than just a bullet point type of document. It’s a really good representation of everything that he went through.”
At its peak, “Throwing Back the Chair” reached No. 2 on the Kindle basketball new release bestsellers list and No. 18 on Amazon’s basketball new release paperback bestsellers list. To spread the word about the book, Bova and Frostino have had book signings at local spots including the Westlake Porter Public Library and Tartine Bistro in Rocky River.
“It’s not a basketball teaching book, it’s about all the great stories that have happened in my career,” Bova said. “That’s how this whole thing came about. I’m at a point in my life where I’d like to again give back. I was able to give back with my baseball camp for 45 years.”
While this book doesn’t include Bova’s tales from his years as head of the Bova Baseball Camp, it does include stories about his referee camp that he ran from 1980-2002.
Memories include when Knight made a surprise guest appearance at the camp, and a time in 1991 when he accidentally caused Temple coach John Chaney to be smacked in the face with his own tie. Bova said it happened when, in the course of swinging his arm to eject Chaney from a game, his hand got caught on Chaney’s tie, causing it to flip up. Chaney was loudly displeased.
He later got an apology phone call and email from Chaney.
Bova also breaks down his personal top-10 arenas and top-15 games he has officiated, with the Knight chair throw unsurprisingly at No. 1 of the latter. Bova said his favorite memory from his time officiating, however, was working 20 consecutive NCAA men’s basketball tournaments and eight Elite Eight quarterfinals in that span.
He now plans to continue watching his own grandchildren, which he refers to as the “Divine Nine” go through their athletic journeys in school, spending time with Donna, his wife of 52 years, whom he credits for being his support system in all he’s done, and staying active in his regular bowling and golfing.
Bova said there are no current plans for another book.
“We’re going to enjoy the fruits of our labor, so to speak,” he said. “Writing a book was not on my bucket list. But I’m thrilled that it’s out there and people are aware because it’s something that I’m very proud of.”
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