“Every time someone asks about the title and they know it’s Bob’s book, they laugh,” Hammel said.
Stereotypes will live on forever about Knight. However, the core of his new book The Power of Negative Thinking is in the subhead of the title: An Unconventional Approach To Achieving Positive Results.
The book, co-written by Hammel, is about Knight’s view of preparation that centers first on eliminating mistakes. He contends coaches and beyond (business leaders) lean too much on hoping something good will happen, an optimistic view that sinks most people. His mantra is “Less hope, more sweat.”
Now retired from the Bloomington Herald-Times, Hammel, 76, goes back with Knight more than 40 years ever since the coach arrived on the Indiana campus. The pair continue to be close friends, talking once a week, according to Hammel.
While most people have a highly conflicted perspective on Knight, everyone agrees on Hammel: He’s an all-world good guy, a terrific writer, and even better in my view, a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan.
Here’s my Q/A with Hammel on the book and his relationship with the coach.
I think it started out as a joke. ‘We ought to do one on the power of negative thinking.’ It’s the only book I ever wrote where we started with the title and went from there.
I’m not sure when it actually became less of a joke and more of a book. However, it quickly occurred to both of us that there really was something there. We realized it was a reflection of how he really coached.
How did Knight use ‘negative thinking?’
People are inclined to think something will happen because you want it to happen. You become so expectant things will work out that you tend to skip over the hazards. The way Knight coached, he looked at all the things that could beat you and attacked those first.
He’s not talking about being a sourpuss or walking under a dark cloud. It’s about, don’t be in a rush. Stop and think. Less hope, more sweat.
There are a lot of literary phrases and historical references in the book. You refer to Napoleon and Hitler as being overly optimistic, which led to their demise. How much of those references came from you and how much were from Knight?
That’s a valid question. I’d think you’d be surprised. Bob is a Truman-o-phile, for example. He loves history. I’m probably responsible for more of the literature. But there’s a lot more genuine Bob Knight than you’d expect.
What is it like to do a book with Knight?
For most sports biographies, the writer spends little time with the subject. It gets written up, approved and out the door.
Well, it’s not that way with Bob Knight. He goes over every line, every word. He’s a surprisingly good editor. He catches me on some things and it’s embarrassing.
One time, we were riding somewhere. We’re talking, and I say, ‘My brother is a basketball coach and I’ve probably seen more than 2,000 games. Yet I go to a game with you (or his brother), and you see so much more than I do.’
His response was, ‘I sure as hell hope I do.’
So I go, ‘I see more in a sentence than you do.’
He said, ‘I’m not so sure about that.’
What was the process like for this book?
We probably talked about 10 times. If he was speaking in Indianapolis, I’d bring my tape recorder and we’d do sessions for two or three hours. Every time, it was in person.
I was actually happy to get the book shipped out. Every day, he was calling up with another suggestion. He was enthusiastic for doing a good job. I can’t fight that.
How would you describe your relationship with Knight through the years?
We’re both retired at this point. We’re good friends. We both got irritated with each other at times (through the years), but that’s inevitable in any kind of relationship.
We say a lot of outrageous things to each other. One time, I was saying that I’d like to write the great American novel. But I’m not wired that way. I don’t read fiction.
He said, ‘Hell, half that stuff you write is fiction.’
So you have to stay fast and loose with Bob.
Were there any surprises for you in this book?
I’ve never been able to get him to talk about his players. In a judgmental sense, he did more of that in this book. For example, he called Bobby Wilkerson (from his ’76 team) the most valuable player he ever had.
He compared his (undefeated ’76 team) to the all-time great teams. He never did anything like that before. He admitted because (of Lew Alcindor), the UCLA teams would have had the edge.
It’s not as definitive as I’d like, but it’s a lot more than I got out of him before. I think Indiana people will enjoy that segment.