Earlier this week, the NBA was rocked by the news that Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife Ingrid had been tragically killed in a car accident. Coach Williams has been a fixture in the NBA since he was a player for 9 years with the Knicks, Spurs, Nuggets, Magic, and 76ers. In 2004, he joined the NBA coaching ranks as an intern for the Spurs, and has since spent time with Portland, New Orleans, and most recently Oklahoma City.
Williams was never a dominant player, but was always seen as a leader on the teams he played for. Doc Rivers, one of his NBA coaches, described him this way: “The biggest thing for me was that he has this ability for people to follow him…On our team, Monty was the sixth or seventh best player, yet everybody followed him and that is a trait you either have or you don’t. Monty has it.”
That leadership was birthed through the personal struggles Williams endured while a player at Notre Dame. Early in his collegiate career, Williams was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a potentially life-threatening heart condition. He was completely devastated at the news. An article from the Notre Dame website describes how this season of turmoil with Williams became one of the defining moments of his life:
“It was probably the most important time in my life because that’s when my girlfriend (Ingrid, who would become his wife), who was such an example of faith and Christian living, told me that I had to get things together in my life,” Williams recalls. “God was trying to get my attention.”
While he was eventually cleared by doctors to resume playing, the traumatic experience forged within him a deep desire to use his life as an opportunity to help others. Ingrid’s faithful presence with him during the dark time also bonded them closer together, laying the groundwork for a marriage that would impact so many.
Perhaps no one more so than Ryan Anderson. In 2013, the Pelicans sharp-shooter received the gut-wrenching news that his girlfriend had committed suicide. Williams, who was head coach of the Pelicans during the time, was one of the first on the scene, finding a physically and emotionally wrecked Anderson lying despondent on the floor of his apartment. Williams literally picked Anderson up and took him to his house, where he and Ingrid prayed and mourned with him deep into the night.
The average NBA coach doesn’t do something like that. But Williams knew that his priority as a coach was not simply to help the players improve as players. It was also to be there for them as men. Ingrid herself had recently experienced a suicide in her family, so they both knew that Anderson needed more than a coach in this moment, he needed their presence.
The NBA is a brutal business, with players and coaches being regularly discarded for lack of performance. In such a cutthroat league, it’s easy for all involved to develop a certain callousness. Which points to how incredible the Williams’ impact has been on other players and coaches. Just consider that the Williams had only been in Oklahoma for 9 months when news broke this week that Ingrid had been tragically killed, but Kevin Durant, the local star, broke down in tears as he tried to put into words how devastated he was by the news.
Durant’s sentiments were echoed by numerous others across the league. Coaches Gregg Poppovich, Doc Rivers, Michael Malone, and Alvin Gentry were all visibly emotional as they spoke about what the Williams had meant to them personally. Anthony Morrow, player for the Thunder, summed up the impact of the Williams family:
“She was like the person you could always go to with anything, Coach Williams as well. Those two are the standard when it comes to marriage, to being believers. It’s inspirational. I feel like I lost a family member.”
Charles Spurgeon wrote that “Great hearts can only be made through great troubles.” The personal troubles of both Monty and Ingrid Williams became the fiery furnaces out of which they sought to encourage others. Their marriage exemplified what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”