Q: What inspired you to make this documentary?
A: Quinn Buckner is a longtime friend. He introduced me to Bob about three years ago for some advice and counsel on a basketball-related project. Of course, Bob generously gave his expertise, and in the process of breakfast meetings at the Uptown we got to know each other. Each session I’d quiz him on different aspects of his life, and I was utterly fascinated with the experiences he’d had and his wonderful storytelling. One day he mentioned that he’d completed a draft of his memoirs, and the lights came on!
Q: If there’s one thing you think people should know about Bob Hammel, what would that thing be and why?
A: Bob is an absolute Bloomington treasure that Bloomington should tap into on many levels. He certainly has more capacity for humanitarian and historical work.
Q: What was your favorite part of making this documentary?
That’s easy. First, getting to know Bob’s story at such an intimate level and second, getting to make friends with the amazing people that are his friends.
A: What is Bob Hammel’s legacy in terms of sports writing in Bloomington?
That’s another multi-part answer. The most important contribution was in the vision and leadership he brought to the Herald Times. Launching the careers of two of only six female sports writers in the entire US in a day when that wasn’t done? The professional discipline to report on sports instead of second-guessing coaches and criticizing players? Developing genuine friendship and respect with athletes, coaches and readers like a community-minded person? How valuable are those?
In that vein, he brought the sports world to Bloomington readers and spoiled them. Down-home reporting from the world’s major sporting events is unheard of for Bloomington-sized towns. And in one of those magical, rarely seen alignments, he helped Bloomington readers understand Bob Knight’s change agency with the Hoosiers (from “Hurryin’ Hoosiers” to “Defense, Defense”). That, I think, made the Knight years even better for fans.
Q: What was it like to interview/work with Bob Knight for the program?
Funny you ask. Before my interview people warned me that he could be unpleasant. I spent most of a day with Coach Knight and his wonderful wife, Karen. They were gracious and friendly and very helpful. A few times I could see Coach’s “mean streak” coming out, but it was him having a little fun (though I’m sure he could be a bear). It’s not often that you get a chance to spend a long time with someone who changed the course of his/her discipline, and you can just imagine how fascinating it was to have the chance to ask him whatever I wanted.
The most memorable part of the day, though, we caught on film. It’s one of the bonus videos on the DVD. We’d finished the official filming at the Skyline Club in Indianapolis. There was a big crowd there for a special event, so we used a freight elevator for Coach and Karen to avoid the crowd. The cameraman was filming our exit for “B-roll” footage so we caught it on tape.
There was a big, friendly security guard at the elevator ready to escort us down. Coach walked up to him, put his hand on the guard’s shoulder and said, “You could have played for me.”
Glowing and obviously recognizing Coach Knight the guard replied, “And I would have, sir.”
“But I’d never let you shoot!”
“Because you’re not a shooter.”
“What am I then?” asked the surprised guard.
“You’d be guardin’ the best player on the other team and I’d want you to beat his ass!” Coach said with a smile as he gave the man a big slap on the shoulder.
“I would, too, sir.”
Coach Knight didn’t have to stop to talk to that man. He wasn’t looking for an, “OMG, Bobby Knight!” Coach took 10 seconds for an exchange that lit up the man’s face and, I sure, left a memory that will stay with that guard for the rest of his life.
That’s the Coach Knight I got to know, and I’m sure that’s the Coach Knight that has been Bob Hammel’s best friend for decades.
Bob Hammel & Bloomington: A 50-Year Love Affair debuts March 4 at 8pm on WTIU and Facebook Live. Watch a preview: