The Pelican Blog

Monty Williams works with young players during his 2013 summer trip to South Africa with Basketball Without Borders

Monty Williams saddened by passing of Mandela

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

During his two-plus decades in basketball, Pelicans Coach Monty Williams has been privileged to collect many life-lasting memories and meet people he probably never dreamed of knowing as a youngster growing up in rural Virginia. He’s been introduced to heads of state, as well as countless legendary sports figures. Among all of those people, however, the one man who made Williams starstruck was South African political revolutionary Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at 95.

As part of an NBA-sponsored Basketball Without Borders trip in 2010, the league arranged for Williams and a group of league representatives to meet Mandela, but the gathering was canceled at the last minute due to Mandela’s failing health. Williams has made a total of five trips to South Africa, but never got another chance to meet one of his heroes.

“Rarely am I (excited about meeting someone well-known),” Williams said. “I’ve had a chance to meet presidents before, but just didn’t go because it doesn’t do much for me. But when it came to Nelson Mandela, I was about as giddy as I’ve ever been about meeting anybody. I didn’t get a chance to do it. But his impact on people I know who got a chance to meet him, it’s amazing, and the way they talk about him. They look at him like he is the father of not just South Africa, but Africa in general.”

Like many people, Williams holds Mandela in extremely high regard for what he accomplished in his home country, which suffered through the evil of apartheid. Mandela helped bring together a South African nation torn apart by its history into its new post-apartheid era.

“When I heard about (Mandela’s passing), my wife and I were just really messed up over it,” said Williams, who even had named a family pet after Mandela. “He meant a lot to me in so many ways. I’m taken aback by his ability to forgive, for so many atrocities to himself and to other people. That perseverance over the years and level of humanity that he had, it’s something I’ll never forget.
“He’s someone that I not only look up to, but strive to be like. We lost someone in our society that we’ll probably never be able to replace.”