The end to the ten-year playoff drought and the incredible 2020-2021 NBA playoffs run for the Phoenix Suns did not happen by chance. Even before the team’s incredible performance during the whole of the season, the revolution began as soon as the Phoenix Suns hired Monty Williams after years of disappointing hirings and performances.
A quote by legendary former NCAA Basketball coach, John Wooden, reads, “A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.” Obviously, a great coach can be identified by their accolades, numbers of wins, and great team management. Yet not every coach can exemplify a “great coach” like Monty Williams has with this incredibly revitalized Phoenix Suns franchise.
Early Playing and Coaching Career
Before pursuing NBA coaching, Monty Williams played for 5 different teams – the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers – spanning from 1994 to 2003. After retiring as a professional player, he served as an assistant coach, associate head coach, and head coach of the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans from 2010-2015. As the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans for five years, Williams was eventually let go with a 173-221 regular-season record, and 2-8 in the playoffs.
Strength During Hardship
These facts alone do not give justice to who he is as a person, apart from coaching. On February 10, 2016, Williams experienced an extreme family tragedy when his wife Ingrid passed away in a car crash with three of their children inside. Despite this devastating and unprecedented news, Monty Williams leaned on his faith in God and took a step forward in sharing his message just nine days after the tragedy. In his heartfelt eulogy of grace and forgiveness, Williams delivered powerful words:
“Psalm 73:1 says God is good. 1 John 4:16 says, God is love. During times like these, it’s easy to forget that … because what we’ve gone through is pretty tough, and it’s hard, and we want an answer. But we don’t always get that answer when we want it. And we can’t lose sight of the fact that God loves us.”
These inspirational words are just fragments of the goodness Monty Williams demonstrates in his life, and as a coach. In the words of John Wooden, Williams has changed this Phoenix Suns franchise for being a “great coach”.
Coaching may often be a matter of gameplan and statistics. However, the key change that rebirthed the franchise is constantly expressed by several Suns players.
According to two-time NBA All-Star, Devin Booker, “Monty’s come in here and shifted the culture tremendously. I’ve seen the bottom and once he got here, that energy changed. The gym changed. Personnel changed and he developed a culture that we bought into and loved. I always say it every day: The culture is something that makes coming to work everyday fun, and that starts with Monty.”
In Phoenix’s game two versus the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals, Ayton struggled in the first three quarters. He recounted in an interview the impact that Williams had on him even through his emotions.
“I didn’t play the way I wanted to play, especially trying to finish around the rim. I didn’t rebound the way I wanted to rebound, and it kind of got to me a little bit,” Ayton said. “But I kept playing through it and kept chipping down and finding what I can do best for my team. Monty had seen it on me. I had my emotions on my shoulders a little bit, but he stopped me — because he knows me — and he just wanted to tell me a word of encouragement, and it got me going.”
The 2020-2021 Suns were no fluke. There had always been great talent and chemistry that was developing in the franchise. What truly helped this incredible season come to fruition was the poised, faithful, and kind spirit of Monty Williams. The previous season marked a tough NBA Finals loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. Still, the Phoenix Suns will enter this upcoming season with the same hard work, passion, and poise that Williams preaches.