Former New Orleans Pelicans head coach and current San Antonio Spurs executive Monty Williams will receive the first ever Sager Strong Award at the inaugural NBA Awards on June 26, per Turner Sports.
The award, named after the late, great Turner Sports reporter Craig Sager will be “presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.”
That description certainly fits Williams, 45, who inspired NBA players and coaches alike even before tragedy struck his family early last year while he was an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On Feb. 9, 2016, Williams lost his wife Ingrid, his college sweetheart and the mother of his five young children— aged five to 18 at the time— to a car accident. Since then, he’s shown great strength, courage and perseverance in being there for his family and thriving in their time of great need.
“My children and I couldn’t have made it through the tough times without the grace of God and the wonderful support we received from family and friends,” Williams said, via a press release. “For all of those who prayed for us, everyone who provided us with hope, love and support, it’s impossible to thank each of you enough. We are forever grateful.”
“There couldn’t be a better recipient for the first ‘Sager Strong’ Award than Monty Williams,” said Sager’s wife Stacy, “whose own character and strength has been an inspiring example to the entire Sager family.”
But even before that harrowing ordeal, Williams’ faith and kindness was an inspiration to so many around the NBA. In Chris Ballard’s incredible profile on Williams for Sports Illustrated in April, Kevin Durant said that “he’s the best man that I know. And that’s no slight to my dad, my godfather, my uncle or any coaches that I’ve had.” When Durant needed to make the biggest decision of his life on whether to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors, he looked to Williams for advice, per Ballard.
In 2013, Williams was there for then-Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, who in 2013 found his girlfriend dead after committing suicide. Anderson, per Ballard’s piece, went to “the one person I knew in New Orleans that would be there for me no matter what.” Monty and Ingrid spent that night consoling Anderson, being there to listen and console during his most trying time.
After attending Ingrid’s memorial, where many big names around the league came to support Monty and his family, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told then-Spurs David West and Tim Duncan, per Ballard, “that it would be ‘years before we understand the totality of that moment.'”
Popovich later told Ballard that he “was in awe. I could not believe that a human being could muster the control and command of his feelings and at the same time be as loving and magnanimous.”
After taking some time off following his wife’s death, Williams joined the San Antonio front office as vice President of Basketball Operations, where he’s able to spend a lot more time with his family instead of the rigors of traveling as a member of the coaching staff.
Popovich told Turner in the release that “Monty feels honored to be associated with this award and is certainly deserving of this recognition.”
Sager passed away last December after fearlessly battling acute myeloid leukemia for more than two years. He worked tirelessly, even during weeks when he received treatment, and inspired so many around the world about his fight, resolve and uniquely positive attitude, launching the Sager Strong movement.
“Monty could not be a more deserving recipient of the inaugural Sager Strong Award,”said Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports, per the release, “as someone who has served as an inspiration to the entire basketball community during a time of extreme adversity.”
The NBA Awards will take place on June 26 from New York City and will be televised by TNT. The show, hosted by Drake, will give out all the major awards from MVP to rookie of the year, as well as numerous other awards like the Sager Strong Award.