Leibo At Large: Suns coach displays more soul than governor hopefuls

By David Leibowitz

Few things in life reveal character more than heartbreak.

Given that Phoenix Suns basketball coach Monty Williams has faced more than his share of adversity, including the death of his wife in a head-on collision caused by a driver sky-high on meth, perhaps we should not be surprised by how gracefully Williams handled the Suns’ shocking Game 7 implosion against the Dallas Mavericks.

Williams’ candor and eloquence, coupled with his willingness to accept responsibility for that miserable 123-90 blowout, impressed me even more than his team’s best-in-the-NBA 64 wins during the regular season.

Truth be told, Williams is also more impressive than the three Democrats and five Republicans currently running for governor of Arizona. The man exudes perspective, dignity, moral strength and leadership — qualities in short supply in politics today.

On a Monday Zoom press conference hours after the Mavs’ onslaught ended, Williams explained how he’d spent the night reflecting on the season past and talking it over with his family and coaches.

He spoke about his own high expectations, now dashed, and the many steps forward the Suns have made under his leadership. The NBA’s reigning Coach of the Year also talked about the gut-twist losing brings and what he’d told his locker room afterward.

“(I) wanted them to understand that we accepted the praise when everybody was talking about us and we were winning games and guys were accomplishing things, and now we have to accept this,” Williams said. “This is going to help us grow in a way that last year didn’t allow for us to grow. These are the adverse times that help you.”

You could see the sadness in the man’s eyes as he acknowledged what could have been.

“It is a huge sting to end this way,” he said. “But it’s just part of it. It’s part of our journey. We have to accept it and embrace it and try our best to grow from it.”

When was the last time you heard a political figure speak that articulately, that intuitively, in such a soul-crushing moment? I have written thousands of talking points for dozens of candidates and office holders  — none of those words as authentic as Williams’ thoughts — and I would walk through walls to work for a human being with such emotional intelligence, should that person decide to run for office.

Tossed a softball by a reporter asking what went wrong — a question perfect for deflecting blame — Williams would have none of it.

Of course, this is a man who missed two seasons of college basketball at Notre Dame because of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare and potentially deadly heart condition. By comparison, this latest professional heartbreak perhaps seemed less life-shattering.

“You know, I could sit here and make some excuses about stuff. I’m not going to do that,” the coach said. “I think everybody is somewhat tired this time of the year. I think teams are dealing with bumps and bruises. We just weren’t as consistent as we had shown during the regular season.”

Come October, the Suns will begin another long grind of a season, led by Monty Williams once more. I had lost my passion for this team because of their legion of front office troubles, but Williams has a way of making you believe.

He has been tested in ways most of us will never understand, this father who had to raise five children on his own, this husband who lost his wife of two decades in an instant, this gentleman who has an unshakeable faith and a steady hand with people.

Maybe next year for the Suns. Though I wish Monty Williams had better things to do than pace the Phoenix hardwood come Election Day 2022.

David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact david@leibowitzsolo.com.