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Monty Williams compares Pop to his high school coach “They both thought my first name was a cuss word”

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Monty Williams is considered to be one of the best, and definitely one of the most inspirational coaches in the NBA today. But the poised, wise Monty we get to see in Wired highlights was not the Monty his coaches had to deal with. That guy was “young, pretty selfish, insecure.” With a smack on the head and an arm around his shoulder, Gregg Popovich helped young, insecure Monty become a calm, confident one.

Tough love

After spending his first two years in the NBA with the New York Knicks, Monty Williams joined the San Antonio Spurs in 1996. Players usually call guys to find out what the new coach is like, but Williams didn’t have a lot of numbers to dial. The coach was just starting his first head coaching gig that year. It was Pop’s first year at the helm.

With so many salty pregame/postgame/sideline interviews, his eloquent moments talking about society and life, and the speeches he made after coaching Tim, Tony, and Manu to 5 NBA titles, we have a pretty clear image of what the Gregg Popovich experience is like. But for young Monty Williams coming in blind, it’s understandable how confusing Pop’s coaching must’ve been initially.

"It was weird to get yelled at in practice and then get a call later on and get invited to dinner. It was like, he just yelled at me about three hours ago. I wasn't used to that and then I figured it out how much he cared about me as a person." 

Monty Williams, AZ Central

Developing an understanding that there’s life outside the NBA and a bigger picture that has to be taken into account helped Monty become a better player. The idea of sacrificing for your teammates and team, not thinking just about the” next contract, minutes,” is much easier to accept when you see that bigger picture. Still, it took guidance from an “older guy” on the team for Monty to fully embrace the way Pop thinks and coaches basketball.

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"He's like, 'Mont, you don't get it. He cares about you. He can see it in you,' I'd be like, 'Yeah, it's easy for you to say. He doesn't just whack you upside the head,' but it really helped me grow not just as a basketball player. He gave me a chance to see the world from a different lenses and I think, as a young basketball player, I was always looking at next contract, minutes and he made me look at it differently."

Monty Williams, AZ Central

First name a cuss word

Williams started his career with the Knicks, got traded to the Spurs, and played in Denver, Orlando, and Philadelphia. But he considered those few years in San Antonio the most important years of his life in terms of being a part of a culture, outside of high school.

As it turns out, Pop wasn’t the first coach to express himself with some tough love - his high school coach Taft Hickman did it too. I guess that’s why Monty was able to adapt to Popovich. But, it seems Williams was also one of those guys that wouldn’t go out of their way not to get yelled at. It wasn’t just the coaches; a part of it was Monty.

“They both thought my first name was a cuss word and they let me have it every so often when I was doing something silly. But when I think of the Spurs culture, the first thing that comes to mind is selfless.”

Monty Williams, AZ Central

Unfortunately, Monty didn’t go into details on the “silly” things he did.; we’ll try to get an answer on that one. Whatever it was, he had enough self-criticism to see past the cuss words and the occasional smack on the head and recognize it comes from a place of love.

If only more players these days could do the same.

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