When Monty Williams speaks, people generally listen.
The 49-year old Suns head coach has earned an unbridled reputation as a player and coach in a basketball life that’s spanned decades professionally. Love him, hate him, or feel indifferent, most in the game respect the Suns’ spirited leader, and his unique guiding style, coupled with a deep love for his players was an invaluable sparking force that helped Phoenix shock the world en route to an NBA Finals appearance.
Although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal, Williams and co. put the basketball landscape on notice with a simple message: we're going to be here for a while. Williams recently sat down with ESPN analyst Adrian Wojnarowski on Woj’s podcast to discuss his mindset following the pinnacle of his career thus far, as well as a host of other timely topics.
Here are some snippets from the two’s conversation:
On Game 6 of the Finals, and the Suns’ 77-77 tie with the Bucks heading into the fourth quarter:
“I’ve gone back to that moment a ton the past few weeks. Trying to figure out anything that I could’ve done in that moment, because all you have to do is win one quarter, which is a tough task on the road against the best team in the NBA. You go through a ton of mental gymnastics to try to figure out something you could’ve said or a play you could’ve run or an adjustment. That’s something that will probably stay with me for a long time.
I go back to our Game 3 preparation to get ready mentally and emotionally for that game. Mentally, it felt like I probably overthought it in regards to the preparation just because we lost. The irony is that we beat them four times in a row, they beat us four times in a row — they just did it at the right time. That’s something that as a coach and leader, will bother me for a long time, but I think it will also drive me to be better in those moments if I’m afforded that opportunity again.”
On Chris Paul’s wrist injury being a factor in the Finals:
“It is. You think about all of that stuff when your emotions settle. But in the moment, you have to have the mindset of no excuses, no explanations, you have to get the job done. People didn’t know that Book was dealing with a hamstring in Game 3, and he got all kinds of flak for what he couldn't do, and what people didn't understand was that he was basically out there playing on one leg. Those guys because they are tough, and never want to rely on excuses, wouldn't say anything, and that part bothered me.
I heard all the stuff that was being said about Devin and Chris in the Finals, and at the same time I’m sure if you talk to the staff with the Bucks I’m sure they would say that Khris was dealing with this, and Giannis was dealing with this. They just happened to win. Chris’ injury happened in the Clippers series, but he never made an excuse about it. I’m sure all the stuff that he heard is going to drive him in his summer workouts, and I’m sure Devin feels the same way.
On the evolution of his relationship with CP3:
“When I got there [to New Orleans], Chris and David West had been through a lot. They were pretty straight with me and our staff that they were going to compete and be pros, they were just moving on. But Chris and I had a great working relationship. There were times when I was coaching him too hard, or being a typical me, but our relationship never changed. In fact, when he left, we stayed in contact. He always watched us play, when we played against each other we always talked in the hallway, I’d see him at USA basketball events. Our relationship didn’t change, it got stronger.
I remember my daughter telling me that Chris Paul sought her out at the All-Star game. My son Elijah would be at USAB camps, and Chris would be one of the only guys that would go over and shake his hand, and come back and said ‘coach you’d be so proud of him, he looked me in the eyes when he shook my hand.’
To have the opportunity to coach him again — you never know if that’s going to happen again. I'm not ashamed to tell anybody that the most success I’ve had had been when Chris Paul has been my starting point guard. I’m not that bright but I’m smart enough to know that Chris helps you win a lot of games.”
On staying true to himself through the process of reemerging as a head coach:
“There’s a lot of things that were going around about me, and my coaching style, and things I’ve said or did.
Those things bothered me not because people said them, but because of the people that believed them. Ultimately, if the players and if people that I worked with felt that way about me, it’s on me to help them understand who I really am. And I also have to admit that in some of those instances they could be right, and in some they were. That’s humbling, when you have to judge yourself and be straight about how you did certain things. I had to get to a point where I had to learn how to be effective over right. There were times where I felt like I was right in certain situations, but sometimes when you're right, you’re not that effective. I wanted to be an effective coach.
I think the thing that helped me change and grow was when I lost my wife. I realize there’s certain things that are much more important than being right. I knew how badly I wanted to be a head coach again, I knew how much I loved the gym, but I also had to figure out how I was going to improve so that I can be effective and be the leader that I needed to be. When you hear things about yourself, it bothers you. I knew my intentions, and how badly I wanted to serve and love and help guys, and yet it wasn’t coming off that way. The only person that I could look at — even though I felt like a lot of those things weren’t true — the only person that I could affect and change was myself.”
On what former players said about him:
“I talked to a ton of players, and I asked them ‘I want you to shoot me straight. Tell me what you thought, don't feel like you’re going to hurt my feelings, I want to know.’ It was pretty consistent, there were guys who were like, ‘coach we loved you, we knew what you were trying to do, but there were days that you made us feel small.’
That bothered me, because I didn’t know that the things that I was saying or the things that I did made the guys feel that way, and it changed my prayer about the next time that I was afforded an opportunity. I would ask God to give me a job that I was excited about, and the people would be excited to come play for us and work for us. When you hear that about yourself from the players you love and respect, the only thing you can do is change and grow.
I was in a coaching meeting one day (in San Antonio), and Pop said ‘if the rules stifle talent, you need to change the rule.’ And it was an epiphany. I thought I had theme music, and somebody had a harp, and I was looking around the room to see if anybody caught it, and nobody had that look on their face like I did. I realized that it was for me. It was something that really impacted my heart, and I had a chance to look at myself. That was a moment for me when I wasn’t in a position of coaching that helped me to reevaluate and grow.”
On other coaches learning from his coaching style:
“I’ve heard people say things about the way that I coach. I’ve gotten letters from people, emails, or even text messages from people on all different levels of basketball.
It does feel good. But not in a way that I would’ve felt like it did in New Orleans. I think I would’ve been patting myself on the back. Now, as I’ve hopefully grown, I feel a level of gratitude that I get to coach again, and I get to have these moments with our players and that I get to be a part of the process of coaches who are younger than I am who say ‘hey man, I appreciate’ whatever it is. I’m hopefully not in a place of pride or arrogance thinking that I've figured it out cause that’s certainly not the case. I do feel like I need to contribute to the growth of other coaches in the same way that Pop and Doc and Nate and Billy Donovan and Rick Carlisle have contributed to me.”
On John Thompson’s impact on him:
“Coach Thompson was an icon, a pillar in that community. I’m from Oxon Hill, Maryland, PG county, DMV. If you grew up in that area in the 80s, the thing that you watched on TV more than anything was Georgetown basketball. Coach Thompson might as well have been the President if you were a basketball player from that area.
It wasn't just about the basketball. I was young, but I was old enough to know that he stood for more than just winning games. I remember when there was an academic proposition that wasn't fair, he walked out because he felt like it didn’t put us all on the same playing field. You knew that he was standing up for more than just winning games.
When I started playing in high school, the thing that drove me was he didn’t recruit me. He recruited another guy that played right down the street from me. It drove me to play as hard as I could and put up as many numbers as I could to prove him wrong.
I think the moment for me that sums it up, was once I got into coaching, I was in D.C. I was scouting Georgetown’s practice, and at that time he had retired. Coach Thompson came out to talk to me, and he sat there and talked to me for a long, long time and just told me how proud he was of me, and that he had been watching me and he had always been rooting for me.
It messed me up, because I had no idea that someone like Coach Thompson would take the time to consider someone like me, and that he had been watching me since I was in like the 9th or 10th grade. Here I was in my 40’s, and he was recounting that. When he passed, there was a ton of emotions for me because I’m not quite sure if there’s a John Thompson around anymore that’s going to have an impact the way he had on young people like me, and many others.”
The full conversation between the longtime friends can be found on The Woj Pod, available for streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and several other streaming platforms.