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This may be the best clue of all. Certainly, Knight accepts success defensively, if not suspiciously. His office celebrates underdogs like Truman and Lombard!, who weren't expected to triumph but, given the chance, thrived on their own sweet terms. And Patton is in evidence, as you might expect. A mean-spirited quote of his hangs on the wall, keynoting a display—an anthology—of paranoid sentiments.
Patton warns ominously that if you strive for a goal, "your loyal friends [will do] their hypocritical Goddamndest to trip you, blacken you and break your spirit." A flanking prayer advises, "If man thwart you pay no heed/If man hate you have no care...." And an essay entitled "The Penalty of Leadership" warns, "The reward is widespread recognition, the punishment fierce denial and detraction."
Is it really that lonely at the top?
Knight also passes out copies of If to visitors.
And yet, as wary as he is of the hypocritical rabbits all around him, Knight is, in many respects, even more unsparing of himself. The game, we hear so often, has passed so-and-so by. With Knight, it may be the reverse; he may have passed it by. But he loves it so, and therefore he must concoct hurdles so that he can still be challenged by it. He even talks a lot about how nobody is really capable of playing the game well. Ultimatly, it may be the final irony that the players themselves must become interlopers, separating him from the game.
Already he has gone so far that at age 40 winning is no longer the goal. "Look, I know this," he says. "If you're going to play the game, you're going to get more out of it winning. I know that, sure. Now, at West Point I made up my mind to win—gotta win. Not at all costs. Never that. But winning was the hub of everything I was doing. And understand, I've never gotten over West Point. Winning had to be more important there, and I had a point to prove. I was just coming off a playing career during which I didn't do as well as I'd hoped. I had to win. And so, to some extent, I won't ever change.
"But somewhere I decided I was wrong. You could win and still not succeed, not achieve what you should. And you can lose without really failing at all. But it's harder to coach this way, with this, uh, approach. I'm sure I'd be easier on myself and on other people if just winning were my ultimate objective." He pauses; he is in his study at home, amid his books, away from all the basketball regalia. "I never said much about this before."
It was a good secret. Now, Bobby Knight is one step closer to utter control of his game. Now all those dim-witted rabbits cannot touch him. They'll be looking at the scoreboard and the AP poll, judging him by those, but they won't have a clue, not the foggiest. Nobody "? holds a mortgage on him. Now, you see, now we are talking about definition.
Nancy says: "People keep asking me if Bobby is mellowing. We're not mellowing. What we are, we're growing up with the game. You've got to remember that not many people get a chance to start coaching in their 20s. We're not mellowing. Growing up is still more of the word for us."
There is still so much time for the Knights to take what is theirs and enjoy it. It can be a great life (someday).