NBA Coach Leans on Christ Amid Tragedy

Monty Williams’ eulogy after wife’s death touches many with the Gospel

NBA Coach Leans on Christ Amid Tragedy

Monty Williams’ eulogy after wife’s death touches many with the Gospel

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016. Monty Williams is now the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, and was named the National Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2021.

 

“Honey, the Lord can heal your heart.” With tears of compassion, Ingrid Lacy spoke those words to her future husband Monty Williams 25 years ago when they were students at Notre Dame, when they were just falling in love. Doctors had told him that his college basketball career with the Fighting Irish was over after his freshman season because of a rare cardiovascular disease that can be instantly fatal, especially for athletes.

He was depressed and considered drowning himself in a campus lake, but Ingrid’s encouragement to trust God lifted his spirits. 

Two years later, after much prayer with Ingrid and with others, Monty’s symptoms vanished. He called it a miracle from God and returned to the Notre Dame team—better than ever—and went on to play and coach professionally in the NBA.

Now, as the associate head coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monty Williams’ heart needs healing again, but not for medical reasons.

Ingrid—his best friend, his ministry partner, the mother of their five children, the person most responsible for helping him grow into a highly influential man of God—died Feb. 10, one day after a head-on collision in Oklahoma City.

Police investigators say Ingrid, 44, was driving at the posted speed limit of 40 mph with three of her children riding with her. A 52-year-old woman speeding from the other direction at 92 mph veered left of center and slammed into Ingrid’s vehicle.

The other woman was pronounced dead at the scene. The Williams children survived.

No words could aptly describe Monty’s devastation, but his faith in Christ was unshaken.

His eulogy, delivered during a Feb. 18 “celebration of life” service for Ingrid, inspired not only the approximately 900 people present, but millions more who watched it later on television, and the Internet when it went viral on social media.

Some of the NBA’s biggest names were in the congregation, including coach Gregg Popovich and center Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, coach Doc Rivers and guard Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers, and the entire Oklahoma City team.

Monty’s message was calmly delivered and full of hope.

He quoted from Psalm 73:1 (“God is good”) and 1 John 4:16 (“God is love”).

“[God] loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for my sins,” Monty said. “He loved me so much that He gave me a wife who loved every part of me, and she fit me perfectly.”

Monty said we all face situations that leave us searching for answers, but per Romans 8:28, God will work everything together to the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

“This is hard for my family, but this will work out,” he said. “My wife would punch me if I were to sit up here and whine about what’s going on. That doesn’t take away the pain. But it will work out because God causes all things to work out. You just can’t quit. You can’t give in.

“What we need is the Lord, and that’s what my wife tried to exhibit every day.”

Then Monty turned his attention to the family of the other woman who died, the woman who was traveling more than twice the speed limit.

“Everybody’s praying for me and my family, which is right, but let us not forget that there were two people in this situation and that family needs prayer as well,” Monty said. 

“We have no ill will toward 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 [that day] wanting to hurt my wife.”

Monty closed by saying that he would miss holding Ingrid’s hand and talking with her, but he added: “We didn’t lose her. When you lose something, you can’t find it. I know exactly where my wife is.”

The impact of Monty’s message was widespread, especially in the NBA and among sports fans. Extended clips were broadcast on ESPN, TNT and other networks. Studio analysts admitted watching the video multiple times and marveled at the peace, strength and faith that Monty exhibited.

“It brought tears to my eyes … I’m just sort of dumbfounded by it,” ESPN’s Skip Bayless said on the First Take show he co-hosts. “I’ve sat through a lot of sermons in my time. This was as great and powerful a testimony—beyond any sermon I’ve ever watched—for believing in and trusting God that I have ever, ever, ever seen. And it came straight from this man’s heart, with no tears and no notes.”

Pastor Bil Gebhardt of Fellowship Bible Church in Metairie, La., the Williams’ home church during Monty’s five seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans (2010-15), told Decision that Monty’s eulogy transcendently communicated the Gospel.

“People who wouldn’t normally listen to a Christian pastor are compelled to listen to this,” Gebhardt said. “So many people in the non-Christian community have a view that Christianity is almost always hypocritical, that we talk one way and we live a different way. But to talk the way that he did in this context, on what basis could you criticize? I think even the most skeptical person would have to stop and pause.”

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said the eulogy was “truly remarkable.” Williams serves as an assistant under Krzyzewski on the USA men’s national basketball team, which will play in the Summer Olympics in August.

“I’m just amazed that he could get up there and talk about anything without completely breaking down,” Krzyzewski said of the eulogy. “I looked at it as what he and Ingrid and their family did in their everyday life—that God was in his heart. … There had to be something good that was going to happen as a result of this because [with] his faith, bad is not the final destination, tragedy is not the final destination.”

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy says the tragedy has given Monty a platform and an open door to share Jesus with the world. Dungy can relate to that because multitudes watched how he relied on the Lord after the suicide of his 18-year-old son James in 2005 when he was coaching the Indianapolis Colts.

“Not everybody can relate to winning an NBA championship or a Super Bowl, but everybody can relate to losing a loved one or having something traumatic happen in your life,” Dungy said.

“When a fan or a nonbeliever sees you win the Super Bowl and you say you did it with the help of God, they can say, ‘Oh yeah, if I was in that position, that would be easy to say.’ But when you see Monty Williams saying what he did under these circumstances, now you’re talking about something that is not natural to us, and people say, ‘Wow, there is no way I could do that.’ It causes people to investigate.”

Monty and Ingrid were no strangers to suffering. Her brother committed suicide. Monty was sexually and physically abused as a pre-teen. The Pelicans replaced him as head coach after last season even though he had led them to the playoffs. Though deeply disappointed, his response then foreshadowed his position now: “I don’t have any bitterness in my heart. … God has always been in control of my life.” 

The Williams’ marriage was centered in their relationship with Christ. They co-wrote a book, Look Again 52, with a daily focus on one Scripture per week for an entire year. They led Bible studies and spiritual retreats. They tirelessly served the homeless, underprivileged and hurting, and sought to do so without publicity. Monty said in an interview last year: “My wife and I are just trying to be servants to the same people Jesus would serve.”

They touched many lives in the NBA, especially players whom Monty coached.

New Orleans Pelicans all-star center Anthony Davis said the Williamses were like a second family to him—and Ingrid a second mom.

Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson credits Monty and Ingrid with helping him get through the suicide of his fiancé in 2013. He said Monty was the first person he called and that he spent the night of the incident at the Williams home, sobbing in Monty’s arms.

Ingrid was known for her consistent joy, smile and devotion to the Lord, to family and to friends. She loved being a mom to their five children (ages 5-17) and chose not to hire outside help to do their household chores.

Charlie Ward, one of Monty’s closest friends and a former New York Knicks teammate, said Ingrid had a knack for making guests feel warm and welcome.

“She just liked pouring into people,” Ward said.

Pastor Gebhardt has stayed in close communication with Monty since the accident and said Monty is facing each day with faith and authenticity.

“He’s not putting on what sometimes becomes a Christian happy face and just pretending that it’s all OK,” Gebhardt said. “He’s not, in any sense, in denial.

“He truly understands that the price of love is grief, and he is deeply grieving. He has a hole in his heart.”

But Monty Williams also has hope, and if Ingrid could speak, he knows what she would tell him. He’s heard it before. ©2016 BGEA 

 
Above: Monty Williams speaks next to a photo of his wife (second from left) and their three daughters during a Feb. 18 service in Oklahoma City.

Photo: YouTube.com

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