Rooting for Suns, Monty Williams in 2021 NBA Finals feels right

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Why Poole is rooting for Suns, Monty Williams in NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

If you have warmth in your heart and no connection to greater Milwaukee, you likely will find it exceedingly difficult to root for the Bucks when they meet the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals beginning Tuesday in Phoenix.

You’re probably with the Suns even if it means rooting for Chris Paul, who has spent his 16-year career doing enough dirty to ensure his popularity would rank somewhere between mosquitos and food poisoning.

Because you can’t help rooting for Monty Williams, the saintly coach of the Suns.

As phony as Paul is at his worst, Williams is as real as real gets. That they are linked at the hip, trying to deliver the first championship in the 53-year history of the Suns, is enough to stir the emotions of millions of fans. It’s unfair that rooting against CP3 means rooting against Williams, and just as unfair that rooting for Williams means rooting for CP3.

But Williams’ story -- various elements of which are bound to be told many times in the coming days – is of a man who has been battered by the worst kinds of adversity and yet somehow always finds strength to walk with love. There are plenty of likable sports figures, but searching for one more lovable than Williams is a fool’s errand. The better you know him, the more you learn about him, the more angelic he seems.

Many NBA fans know Williams lost his wife in 2016. A woman later found to be under the influence of methamphetamine crossed the divider of an Oklahoma City roadway and, at an impact speed of 78 mph, crashed head-on into the SUV driven by Ingrid Williams. A light to all who met her, Ingrid made it through the evening but died the next day. She was 44.

Suddenly, Monty, then an assistant coach under Billy Donovan with the Oklahoma City Thunder, was a single father of five.

Eight days later, Monty Williams was eulogizing his wife of 21 years -- and also consoling the family and friends of Susannah Donaldson, the driver of the wayward car, who also died in the crash.

“Everyone is praying for me and my family, which is right,” Williams said in front of about 1,000 at the memorial service. “But let us not forget that there were two people in this situation. And that family needs prayer as well, and we have no ill will towards that family.

“In my house, we have a sign that says, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ We cannot serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness. That family didn’t wake up wanting to hurt my wife. Life is hard. It is very hard, and that was tough, but we hold no ill will toward the Donaldson family.

“And we, as a group, brothers united in unity, should be praying for that family, because they grieve as well. So, let’s not lose sight of what’s important.”

Is it not unhealthy to root against this guy?

There are many other examples of Williams’ character, but I’ll share one more, courtesy of Chris Ballard’s excellent story that appeared in Sports Illustrated in 2014, 15 months before Ingrid was killed.

During Monty’s five seasons as head coach of the Pelicans, he and Ingrid created and cultivated a family atmosphere, with faith at its core. In 2013, when one of the New Orleans players, Ryan Anderson, entered his girlfriend’s apartment and discovered her hanging by her neck, his first call was to Williams. Within minutes, Monty and Ingrid were with him, not just emotionally but also physically.

And this was a short time after Monty’s brother-in-law -- Ingrid’s brother -- had taken his own life.

Ryan was distraught, so Monty and Ingrid brought him home with them that night. They prayed together. Ryan slept on the couch in the Williams’ living room, a few feet away from his coach, who was laying on a mattress pulled from one of the bedrooms.

When the Pelicans fired Williams, Anderson remained with the team as his former coach took the job in Oklahoma City. On the day Ingrid died, the Pelicans were playing the Thunder in OKC. Anderson made a point of visiting Williams.

"It was really, really good to see him and to be with him,” Anderson told The Oklahoman. “I think that it was important when something like that happens, you feel like you're alone. In his case, so many people care about him and love him and it was good to show him a glimpse of that. It was good to even find a way through conversation even to see him laugh for a second in the midst of something so horrific. Like joking about basketball stuff.

“It was obviously devastating. There were a lot of tears today. But just to be able to kind of fight through that and have some kind of strength through that is amazing. He's such an amazing guy."

RELATED: Klay explains why he has a hard time watching NBA playoffs

Amazing guy, Monty Williams. That’s the consensus in and around the NBA. He happens to be coaching the team I believe is the superior team in these Finals.

I’m with him, even as part of a package deal with Paul. When the heart is engaged, decency and perspective beat petty every time.

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