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Bob D’Angelo

Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.

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Negativity gets a positive spin

Posted Feb 21, 2013 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Apr 6, 2013 at 08:14 PM

Take one look at the cover of Bob Knight’s latest book and you might shake your head at first. But as Knight will reveal, the title is an instrument to gain the reader’s attention.

The cover of “The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results,” (New Harvest, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $25, hardback, 224 pages) shows Knight staring balefully at the basketball court during his coaching. Don’t let the cover fool you. There is a method to negative thinking, and Knight, in addition to being a Hall of Fame coach, is a great communicator and an astute teacher. He communicates and teaches well in this work with his longtime collaborator, Indianapolis sportswriter Bob Hammel.

As Knight sees it, negative thinking is much better than being “a Pollyanna” whether it is about basketball strategy or goals in life. He approached the game with a worst-case scenario mentality: in other words, what negative things can happen to his team during the course of a game? But instead of waiting for something to happen, Knight worked at eliminating the negatives through preparation and hard work.

“The negative thinker always knows there is a chance that he can get beat, so he works to make that as unlikely as he can,” Knight writes.

Certainly, Knight is an acquired taste; his legions of fans are probably matched by those who detest him, pointing to some of his antics on the sidelines as evidence. Certainly, Knight has been controversial, childish and even a bully at times. But he has plenty to say in “The Power of Negative Thinking,” and he backs it up with plenty of examples.

One of the concepts Knight puts forward in this book is the “if … then” theory — “If we don’t do these things, then sure as hell we’re gonna get beat.” It’s negativity, but paying attention to the small details and working to become as mistake-free as possible more often than not creates a positive result.

For example, Knight never subscribed to the theory that most basketball coaches do — calling a timeout to set up for the last shot.
“No! If you suddenly get possession, time is running out, and we must have a basket, you should know in advance what we want to do,” Knight writes. “If you have time, run our offense to get the best shot you can get. If you have to strike fast, go up-court immediately and use the broken floor to your advantage.

“Do not stop the clock and let them set up their defense. You have the ball, your team has the collective intelligence, everyone’s in transition — attack!”

As Knight explains, this detail had been taken care of before the game, so his players knew what to do. This tactic brought Indiana the national championship in 1987; in the final against Syracuse, the Hoosiers got a defensive rebound late, came back down the court, did not call a timeout, and let Keith Smart make the game-winning shot from the baseline to win the game.

Three national championships, 902 career victories and an Olympic gold medal as a coach bear out that thinking.

Knight is also a fine storyteller, and some of his asides and the quotes he has collected for this book will make the reader stop and laugh out loud.

Negatives even come from the Bible: “Have you ever realized that seven of the Ten Commandments start with thou shalt NOT?”

And from John F. Kennedy: “Ask NOT what your country can do for you ...”

And here’s Abraham Lincoln, straight out of the Gettysburg Address: “We can NOT dedicate — we can NOT consecrate — we can NOT hallow — this ground.”

There’s lot’s of negative thinking going on there, Knight asserts, but it had a positive effect.

Having negative thoughts will not work if some positive vibes are not injected from time to time. And Knight concedes this next thought might be surprising, coming from him:

“Amid all those firm negatives that bring things into line, a coach or any other kind of leader should never overlook a chance to be positive,” he writes.

The book contains a good dose of Knight-isms, but they are written clearly and to the point. “I never asked for a raise after winning a tournament or conference championship,” he writes. “I also figured they wouldn’t take anything away if we didn’t.”

There are plenty of optimism in the world, along with pessimism. Knight argues that the best attitude to have is realism.

“One of the often-criticized coaching axioms is playing not to lose, rather than to win,’ ” he writes. “For me, playing not to lose is actually the best way to win.

“Critics will say it means playing too conservatively. I understand that, but my rebuttal is is you genuinely eliminate all the ways you can lose, you’re a whole lot closer to winning.”

Knight’s book is a positive look at negativity. And an intriguing read.

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