After losing four straight games to the Milwaukee Bucks and losing the 2021 NBA Finals, Christian Pheonix Suns head coach Monty Williams visited the opposing team in their locker room to congratulate them on the victory, a move some commentators say is unprecedented.
After the final game in the series last Tuesday, Williams diverted his attention to others rather than himself and confronted his rivals with gratitude.
“You guys deserve it. I’m thankful for the experience. You guys made me a better coach, and you made us a better team,” Williams said while congratulating the opposing team.
His team took a 2-0 lead in the seven-game series but dropped four consecutive games to lose the series.
In a press conference after the game, Williams was close to tears and opened up about how he struggled to think clearly.
“I just don’t take it for granted,” the 49-year-old coach said. “It’s hard to get here, and I want it so bad. ... It’s hard to process right now.”
In the post-game press conference, Williams admitted his memory of the fourth quarter is a blur. However, he said he is "thankful that God allowed him to be in his position as head coach in the finals."
During the fourth quarter of the game, he said, it was evident his team could not score enough despite multiple opportunities.
"It hurts badly, but I'm also grateful that we had this chance to play for a championship," he began. "We had opportunities, a lot of shots in and out. But our transition offense tonight ... we couldn't convert. We had a number of opportunities to get a layup, get a three, but we just couldn't do it, and it hurt our defense."
The Suns' defense performed well that night, according to Williams. But the team could not knock down some shots or score in transition on several occasions during the fourth quarter.
"If I had to point to anything in the fourth quarter, that was it. We just couldn't convert," he added. "It's my first time doing it. ... I've never dealt with this kind of hurt as a head coach, and I just think that when you go through something like this for the first time, you don't expect to get this far."
Williams said it is a huge accomplishment for his players to have made it to the finals for the first time and have a chance to play for a championship. He added that it is hard for him to process how far the team has come because many athletes never make it past the first round.
"There's just a pain that goes with your season being over. But, I've never dealt with this," he continued. "I'm grateful, like I said, but I know this is going to hurt for a while."
Williams said he doesn't want the pain to take away from what his team has done this year.
"They battled all year long with all the testing and playing every other day to get to this point and have a chance to play for a championship. It's unreal that our guys did this," Williams concluded. "I'm grateful, and I feel for them. But I also expressed to them that now that we know what it takes to get here, it's going to be that much harder to get past this point."
Williams said the reality is that many athletes who make it to the NBA Finals do not know if they will make it ever again.
"This is why it's important to take advantage of these opportunities, and they did," he assured. "We just came up short."
Williams, who received the Michael H. Goldberg Coach of the Year Award, has been vocal about his faith in Christ. After the Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, Williams said the "essence" of his coaching "is to serve.”
“As a believer in Christ, that’s what I’m here for. And I tell [my players] all the time, if I get on you, I’m not calling you out; I’m calling you up. You have potential, and I have to work my tail off to help you reach that potential,” Williams said at a press conference earlier this month.
Williams lost his wife, Ingrid, in a traffic accident in 2016 caused by a driver under the influence of methamphetamines. At the funeral, Williams quoted the words of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
“In my house, we have a sign that says, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15)," Williams said at the time, according to Church Leaders. "We cannot serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness."