In sports, when teams meet in the finals, it’s common for one team to be the good guys and the other a villain. This NBA Finals is rare. Both the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks are likable. But it is the Suns’ 36-year-old, future Hall of Fame point-guard Chris Paul that is the sentimental favorite as he pursues his first NBA championship. Him and the Suns had a 2-1 lead over the Bucks when Game 4 tipped-off last night (Wednesday) in Milwaukee.
Paul has never been this far into a postseason in his 16-year career, but his team’s head coach, Monty Williams, voted this season’s National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year by his fellow NBA coaches—the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau won the Coach of the Year award voted on by journalists—is someone countless people hope wins his first title after overcoming heartbreaking tragedy.
On Feb. 9, 2016, Williams and the basketball community were devastated by the news of his wife of 20 years, Ingrid Williams, with whom he had five children ranging in ages from 17 to 5, being involved in a head-on car accident in Oklahoma City. She was struck by a driver of an SUV who was later found to have the illegal drug methamphetamine in her system, lost control of the vehicle, and crossed into oncoming traffic.
Ingrid Williams, 44, died the next day from injuries sustained in the accident. The driver died at the scene. Three of the Williams children were also injured but survived. At the time, Monty Williams was the associate head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the accident, Williams stepped away from coaching for the next two years.
“I got the call nobody wants to get,” said Williams of the fatal crash in the summer of 2016 in an interview with ESPN. “And I knew when I was talking to my daughter, because she answered the phone, I knew at that moment that my life was going to change. I can’t explain it, but I knew that everything was going to be different.”
Williams had a playing career that began as a first round draft pick of the New York Knicks in 1994 and ending in 2003. He began his coaching career as an intern with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and was an assistant with the Portland Trailblazers from 2005 to 2010. He was hired by the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans as their head coach in June of 2010 and held the position until he was let go in May of 2015. Williams returned to the bench in 2018 and as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers prior to becoming the Suns’ head coach in May of 2019.
The duo of general manager James Jones and Williams has rapidly transformed the Suns from one the league’s worst franchises to one step away from the organization winning its first title. The Suns finished the 2018-’19 season with the worst record in the Western Conference at 19-63. Last season they were 34-39 and undefeated in the bubble when the league returned from its over four-month COVID-19 stoppage.
After the Suns added Paul last November in a trade with the Thunder, he became part of a core that included star guard Devin Booker and rising center Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Arizona. They led the Suns to the second best record in the league this season at 51-21.