Today, the local Phoenix media were fortunate to join a Zoom call with Suns head coach Monty Williams as he discussed the nationwide protests to racially-motivated violence against blacks, most recently to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
The state of Arizona, like most other states, have used the national guard to supplement local police to come closer to meeting the volume of protestors on our streets. The police have had to deal with not only lawful protests but also riots and looting late at night.
Williams commented on a wide range of topics broached by our questions, but several times made sure to point out that the actions of the few — on both sides of the equation — should not take away from the good people.
“I think, for the most part, our society is filled with unbelievably good people, and you see it all across the country,” Williams said.
Later in the chat, he added, “Our police men and women who do their jobs with integrity, who walk out of their homes every day to protect and serve, they need to be esteemed right now.”
Of course the conversation had to touch on sports a bit. And Williams had plenty to say on that topic.
“Sports in my opinion is a connector in so many ways,” Williams said. “When you’re a kid, all you cared about was playing, being with your friends, wanting to win and being able to go home and tell your parents about what happened.
“There were no barriers, race wasn’t involved for the most part, social class was not involved in it, it was just the pure element of playing. I don’t think that’s left the arena of sport, even though we’re dealing with the highest level.”
Williams was asked about the Suns chances to continue the NBA season with other teams in a Florida bubble (Wide World of Sports complex at Disney). The Suns will potentially be included in that field, even though they are 6 games out of playoff position in the West and the league considering no more than an 8-game regular season schedule before starting playoff rounds.
“I’m hopeful that if we do get a chance to play, we become a bright spot for our world,” Williams said.
But Williams did not stop there. He doesn’t want this all to be about starting up the Suns season again.
“At the same time, I’m hopeful that sport doesn’t deflect from the things that we want to pay attention to,” he continued. “As much as we want to get back to playing (sports), there’s a number of things in our social structure that need attention.”
In talking with a mostly white media group, Williams broached the topic of how we can get involved to help improve racial relations.
“It’s been pretty cool to have so many of my white friends who ask what can I do? And I’m not qualified to respond to that in an appropriate way, but one thing I did say is to tell them to keep being themselves,” he told us.
“I don’t think any African American whose dealt with inequality is asking for people to change in that way, most of us all on this call want to see everybody on the same playing field, that’s it. … I wouldn’t be who I am if not for my friends who are white, people that I’ve met who aren’t like me and don’t look like me.”
Williams notes that his own life situation separates him from feeling the day-to-day racism that these protestors and so many others of color have to feel.
“To be straight, I felt a bit helpless,” he said, of explaining the racism to his kids, who range from age 9 to 22, “but I also felt like I was a bit privileged because I’m the coach and because I make the amount of money that I make and because I can go home to a gated community, I felt like I was hiding a bit by being quiet.”
Many of us feel helpless and too quiet. But we don’t know where to start without putting our own lives at risk in these protests.
Williams had some advice on that front.
“We all have to be diligent and understand who we vote for. That’s something that we just cannot take for granted anymore,” he said. “Years ago, if the candidates didn’t line up with my ideals perfectly, I just didn’t vote, and I feel horrible about that. I’ve gotta understand and dig in, they may not align perfectly with what I want, but the candidate has a platform that’s gonna help society overall, I’ve gotta vote.”
He also said we should do whatever we can to meet with police departments and chiefs. If possible, spend time with city and state officials. Attend Town Hall meetings and discuss issues. Basically, get out of your comfort zone.
He knows he has to do his part to impact change.
“I don’t want to get 20 or 30 years from now and look my kids in the eye and tell them all I did was play and coach,” he said with a chuckle, mentioning mentor Gregg Popovich for inspiration on that. “I don’t want to get in my 60s and 70s and not be able to tell my kids that I affected more than just a pick and roll coverage.”
He circled around to basketball again at the end of the call, but with a big word of caution.
“My hope is that if we do get back into playing basketball,” he said. “That it does not take the attention and focus off the things that need to change. We’ve said that sports is a break from reality and we do not need a break from reality right now, we need to focus on reality.”
But then he admitted the obvious that we all feel: “I’m like most people, I toggle between both realities.”
Let’s toggle between those realities, folks!
We should find out by end of week if the Suns will be part of any continued regular season for the NBA, with a shot at the playoffs.
Here is Monty Williams’ open letter from earlier in the week.
"I’m angry. I’m afraid. And I’m in pain. ... As I tell my players, I’m not calling you out, I’m calling you up."— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) May 31, 2020
✍️ An open letter from @Suns head coach Monty Williams ⤵️
I have decided NOT to turn on comments for this article because I cannot stomach the inevitable race-related arguments that will spawn from this article. Go have your arguments on Facebook or Twitter or whatever other medium you already use. Don’t do it here.