Saturday morning I got the call I had been waiting for all week: the senior vice president and cofounder of the Orlando Magic, author of over 50 books, father of 19 — 14 internationally adopted children, patron of six NBA finals, host of a weekly Orlando Christian radio program and the man responsible for the NBA careers of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Daryl Dawkins was available for an interview.
Pat Williams came to to speak at the Wildfire Men’s Conference hosted by Thomas Road Baptist Church and gave me four minutes of his time.
As I wait backstage amongst catered barbeque, designer shoes, a troop of autograph hopefuls armed with Sharpie pens, my nervousness grows.
I tug at my silver tie slung down my blue shirt and hope it is not too cheesy to wear those colors when talking to the Magic founder or to think he will even notice the color combination.
Mid-yawn, and another check of the time on my cell phone, Williams and his assistant walk in. I quickly shut my gaping mouth and smooth my shirt and grab my recorder.
As Williams signs basketballs for the youth and a photographer snaps pictures, William’s assistant informs him that the Liberty paper would like to speak with him if he has time. He looks at his watch and then at me fumbling with my pen, notebook and recorder.
“I really have to get to the airport,” Williams says. My heart sinks a little. “Can we talk on the way to my car?” he asks me.
I mutter out a “sure,” clear my throat and with the deepest, most confident voice I can muster, introduce myself and shake his hand.
“I got to shake Pat Williams’ hand!” my head screams.
His assistant leads the way to the parking lot as Williams rebounds the questions I lob.
Upon exiting the reception room backstage, I ask, “In regards to your new book, “The Leadership Wisdom of Solomon,” what is the main thing you want the audience to take away from that?
Williams: “It’s a different look at leadership. I don’t think we’ve ever really studied Solomon as a leader, but 28 times in the Message version – the Bible Eugene Peterson translates – there is the word leadership or lead, and that’s the main meat of the book. So Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, has some definite opinions on leadership. And as far as I can tell, it’s the first time we’ve ever really fleshed it out. I think we’ve captured some unique leadership principles that Solomon taught 6,000 years ago. So with many leadership books out there, there’s no lack of leadership teaching and writing but hopefully this is a new twist, a new look at leadership through the ancient wisdom of Solomon.
One minute, 13 seconds with Pat
I do my best to subtly slow my walking pace to try to milk a few more seconds of interview time. The parking lot is less than 80 yards away.
“With your experience with the NBA and with college and with younger athletes, what would you say is the biggest challenge to young athletes today?” I ask.
Williams folds his arms across his Floridian flower-print shirt and answers thoughtfully.
“Staying out of trouble,” Williams says. “There are so many temptations out there. We see it every day in the paper. High school kids, college kids, the pros – there’s so many temptations, so many areas where they can stumble. It happens far too regularly. Sexual issues, drugs, alcohol, stealing, abusing women. It’s a real crisis I think. That’s the biggest issue I think with young athletes, you know who are in the lime light … (and) have all sorts of advantages. They’ve got to be awfully careful and make good decisions.”
Two minutes, 22 seconds with Pat
“How do young men avoid these situations?” I ask. The assistant hits the remote on his keychain and a car three rows away lights up.
“Well that’s the problem,” Williams says as he squints through the midday sun. “All of this should be taught in the home. Young kids are not getting it taught when they’re 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10 years old and so what’s happening is coaches in high school and college and even the pros, are being forced to teach character. Before it was teaching X’s and O’s, now we have to teach character. That’s become a huge part of coaching now. It wasn’t always there. We didn’t have to worry about it much, but now coaches are doing far more than teaching skills, they teach young men how to behave.”
Three minutes, 5 seconds with Pat
Williams and I segue into talking Tony Dungy and his books “Quiet Strength” and “The Mentor Leader” and the impact Dungy has had on training and developing young men across athletic disciplines. We arrive at the car and the assistant starts rearranging luggage in the trunk. I’m almost out of time.
Three minutes, 24 seconds with Pat
“What do you think the Lord has put on your heart to share with young men, especially young athletes?” I ask.
“Right now, leadership and teamwork are really hot buttons with me and living life triumphantly,” Williams says as the assistant checks his watch. “The sports world ends quickly. We’re always one injury away, one roster cut and it ends very quickly. The real message to young athletes that I’ve got is to use all of this to build your resume. To get ready for a full productive life in sports. Don’t let sports use you, you use (sports). Because a solid background in sports does teach character. It teaches leadership, it teaches so much. Above all it would give you some visibility that can be very valuable in the business world or in any other world because people have a great respect for athletes and for coaches. So what I’m saying to young people is use it to your advantage.”
Four minutes, 25 seconds with Pat
The assistant opens a door and I take my cue. I thank Williams for his time. He shakes my hand, tells me to keep writing and thanks me for my time. I shake his hand again and he heads off to the airport as a thinly veiled smile creeps across my face. “He thanked me for my time,” I say to myself. I look down at my recorder.
Four minutes, 33 seconds with Pat Williams.
BROWN is asst. sports editor.