Author Interviews
4:05 am
Sat March 2, 2013

A 'Negative' Message: Don't Just Hope, Work

Originally published on Sat March 2, 2013 12:50 pm

A few names come to mind when you say Hoosier basketball: Larry Bird, Gene Hackman, who was in a movie — and Bob Knight, about whom they make movies. Bob Knight coached three Indiana University teams to three NCAA championship titles and — a record of which he's equally proud — almost all of his players graduated. He left Indiana after a controversy involving his treatment of players, went on to coach at Texas Tech, and is now retired from coaching and a featured commentator for ESPN's college basketball coverage.

He has a new book in which he lays out the philosophy of his coaching and how it can apply to life: The Power of Negative Thinking. Knight tells NPR's Scott Simon that he wants to help people get rid of their rose-colored glasses. "I think that we as a people are always prone to think about, well, tomorrow will be a better day," he says. "Well, why will it be a better day?"

Knight says people should concentrate on doing well in the present rather than hoping for good things down the road. "Positive results don't happen simply because we believe they're going to happen," he says. Hope may spring eternal, he laughs, but it's a lot better to work and plan for something than just to hope for it.

Nor did he pray for good things — Knight eschewed pregame prayers during his coaching career. "I'll tell you what," he says. "I watched the guy that hits a home run, and he comes across the plate, and he points skyward, like thanking the Almighty for the help to hit the home run. And as he does that, I say to myself, 'God screwed the pitcher.' And I don't know how else you look at it. I've always felt that the Almighty has a lot of things to do other than help my basketball team."

And even if the Almighty helps you to a victory, Knight says, it can be harder to learn from victory than from defeat. "I think that we don't want defeat, we don't want defeat in sport, we don't want defeat in life," he says, but we need to examine what defeats us. "Let's address those things that are going to bring about a loss, rather than simply those things that are going to bring about a victory."

There is room, though, amid the negative thinking, for happiness, Knight says. "Winning. I think, what more can you want than having completed a task, played a game, where you have won? What better feeling can you have than having done something that has not just benefited you, but has benefited your team? I think there's a tremendous reward in simply being successful. But the key is, how do you become successful?"

Knight is an unlikely advice guru — he left Indiana under a cloud after allegations that he could not control his temper with players. But, he says, his record there speaks for itself. "I think you're looking at something I'm not sure you really know anything about. I was involved with some great people while I was at Indiana ... people that really understood and appreciated what I tried to do with the basketball team," he says. "The last five or six years that I was there, I didn't agree with people, I didn't like the people that I was working for. The biggest mistake I made was thinking I could stay there, and shouldn't have."

There's an infamous video that shows him appearing to choke a player, but Knight calls it "overworked," saying, "if you've looked at that video, you can't even see it, you can't even really tell it. I don't see anything wrong with my going past a kid and grabbing his shoulder and simply saying, 'Don't throw the ball away, you've got to look where you're passing,' and walking on." And as for his locker-room rants, Knight says, "what I did in the locker room seemed to bring about a situation, as far as our teams were concerned, that must have been a lot better than what other people were doing in the locker room."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A few names come to mind when you say Hoosier basketball: Larry Bird, Gene Hackman, who was in a movie, and Bob Knight, about whom they make movies. Bob Knight coached three Indiana University teams to three NCAA championship titles and, a record of which he's equally proud, almost all of his players graduated. Mr. Knight left Indiana after a controversy involving his treatment of players. He went on to coach at Texas Tech and is now retired from coaching and is a featured commentator for ESPN's college basketball coverage. He has a new book in which he lays out the philosophy of his coaching and how it might apply to life: "The Power of Negative Thinking." Coach Bob Knight joins us now from the studios of ETV Radio in Columbia, South Carolina. Thanks very much for being with us.

BOB KNIGHT: I'm happy to be here.

SIMON: You say you want to help people take off their rose-colored glasses. What do you mean?

KNIGHT: Well, I think that we as a people are always prone to think about, well, tomorrow will be a better day. Well, why will it be a better day? And I think the more that we believe in doing things better, doing the right thing rather than hoping that that's going to happen, let's make it happen. And that's kind of how I looked at coaching in all the years that I coached.

SIMON: Do you learn more from defeat or victory?

KNIGHT: Well, I think that it's perhaps harder to learn from victory than it is from defeat. I think that we don't want defeat. We don't want defeat in sport. We don't want defeat in life. How are we going to be beaten? All right. We have to deal with those things. What's going to cause us to lose the game, whatever the game might be? But I've spend my lifetime looking at teams win what's a big game and then only turn around and lose the next game to an inferior opponent. And that's simply not getting ready to play the next game.

SIMON: Why didn't you have pregame prayers?

KNIGHT: Well, I'll tell you what. I watched the guy that hits a home run and he comes across the plate and he points skyward, like thanking for the help from the almighty to hit the home run. And as he does that, I say to myself God screwed the pitcher. And I don't know how else you look at it. You know, I've always felt that, you know, the almighty has a lot of things to do other than help my basketball team.

SIMON: Coach, what room is there in your "The Power of Negative Thinking" for happiness and joy?

KNIGHT: I think winning. I think what more can you want than having completed a task, played a game where you have won? I mean, what better feeling can you have than have done something that has not just benefited you but has benefited your team? I think there's a tremendous reward in simply being successful. The key is how do you become successful?

SIMON: And I have to ask, as anybody would. You left Indiana after a controversy over the inability to control your temper. So, what do you say to those who might say: how can you take advice from a guy like that?

KNIGHT: Well, you know, I think that the graduation rate that I had, the games that we won, spoke for themselves. I think you're looking at something that I'm not sure you really know anything about. I was involved with some great people while I was at Indiana, probably for, oh, maybe 25 years; people that really understood and appreciated what I tried to do with the basketball team. The last five or six years that I was there, I didn't agree with people, I didn't like the people that I was working for. The biggest mistake I made was thinking that I could stay there and shouldn't have. I stayed when I knew I was dealing with people that I was not on the same page with and people that quite frankly I just didn't like.

SIMON: So, you were always able to control your temper? I mean, when we hear of these locker room speeches, they were a controlled presentation?

KNIGHT: I would doubt if what I did in the locker room was much different than a thousand other coaches. But what I did in the locker room seemed to bring about a situation as far as our teams were concerned that must have been a lot better than what other people were doing in the locker room.

SIMON: Bob Knight. He's the author of a new book with Bob Hammel: "The Power of Negative Thinking." Coach Knight, thanks so much for being with us.

KNIGHT: Well, I appreciate you taking the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.