April 1, 2012 by David Gillaspie
One That Got Away (also posted on oregonsportsnews.com)
Monty Williams left Portland for the top coaching job with the New Orleans Hornets. He left too early. When he brought his team to the Rose Garden Thursday night, he found a Blazer team without the man who hired him.
On a more positive note, he also found a way to re-connect with the roots he grew in Portland while he was here.
Thirty-five fans got a section of seats from Coach Williams. Friends he made here, guys with their kids, got behind-the-scenes passes. Monty Williams knows basketball is the name of the game, but there’s an even bigger game, one most sports people choose to ignore.
Williams is a golden domer for more than his hairstyle. He was a Notre Dame player who wondered if health issues would allow him to ever play again, let alone make the big step to the NBA. He had to wonder if his own history would fade enough to set him free.
Nine years in the league answered those questions.
Now one of the youngest coaches in the NBA, Williams shows how well he’s learned the hard lessons of professional sports. Chris Paul, a friend and all-World point guard, wanted a new team; one of the Hornets racked a league icon; the league owns his team. What did Williams do?
He texted Blake Griffith an apology after his guy, Jason Smith, gave him a shot. Williams didn’t have to do it, and maybe no one else would, but that’s who he is, a smart guy others underestimate.
Along with the good sportsmanship, Williams added this:
“It’s unfortunate what has happened to Jason, but I’m just going to say this and put it out there: to me as a league, I wish everybody would have gotten on their platform or soapbox and screamed for Jason when he got knocked out at Detroit. He got knocked out twice. No foul. No flagrant.”
In February Jason Smith took two hits to his head that knocked him out of the line-up. Afterward, Coach Williams saw a moment to make a bigger statement for his team, for all the players. A coach might do that if it serves their purpose; a good man does it to improve everyone’s game.
After the Chris Paul trade, with a team gutted by injuries in a shortened season, what did Williams do? He got his guys ready to play the games ahead. He made them believe they would win, and win big. No whining, no excuses, no bitter pill to jam down fans’ throats, just basketball the way it’s supposed to be played.
Except with Monty Williams, you get the extras. He may be more spiritually inclined than Tim Tebow, but you’d never know it. His is more about The Word than the television camera. His book, Look Again 52, is a testament to that fact.
His community presence takes it all to a whole ‘nother level. While no state wants bragging rights for the worst convict population, there are a few name brand prisons that come to mind. Some of the names sound like legends, Alcatraz, Attica, and ADX.
If Monty Williams’ prison ministry hasn’t taken him to The Farm yet, it will. While he’s inside the ‘Alcatraz of the South’ he will do for the inmates what he’s done for the New Orleans Hornet fans. He will give them hope. He will share his callling. We may never know what he says, but be certain his words will have an effect on his audience.
This is a man on the correct side of sports, one worth celebrating beyond the wins and loss column. The great San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said it best when Monty Williams was an assistant NBA coach.
“He’s ready to go. Somebody is gonna be fortunate if they figure it out that they don’t need the big names all the time. They need a coach. And that’s what he is, a coach.”
Would he have been a good match as Portland’s coach? Yes is the short answer, explaining why is slightly longer.
He gets it. Portland got it, but they let him go.