A lasting and widely admired scene from the 2021 NBA Finals: Defeated Suns coach Monty Williams going into the Bucks’ locker room to congratulate them.
However, Williams received narrow criticism for being “too look at me.” Even Giannis Antetokounmpo explaining he invited Williams into Milwaukee’s locker room didn’t satisfy Amin Elhassan – who, despite his general praise of Williams – became the most noted disparager of Williams’ speech. Elhassan said Williams could have have declined Antetokounmpo’s invitation rather than put himself in the center of Milwaukee’s celebration.
But Williams says he thought Antetokounmpo was leading him into a side office, not the middle of the locker room.
Williams, via Sam Amick of The Athletic:
You know what man, I heard about what was made of it after the fact. And to be straight with you, it happened so quick. All I wanted to do was congratulate Giannis, because I came right out of a press conference and I shut the door and I went right into him. And he was sitting there with a cigar in his hands, soaking wet from — I guess — the champagne, and he had a bottle in his hand (laughs). So I’m thinking to myself, ‘How cool is this, man?’ (laughs). I come right out of my press conference, I’m emotional, and then I run right into him and I just wanted to be gracious and say ‘Congrats. You deserved it. You beat us.’
I wasn’t trying to do anything (in the Bucks locker room), I was just trying to congratulate Giannis, and I thought maybe he’d take me to a side office where Bud (Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer) and (Bucks general manager) Jon (Horst) were and I was just going to congratulate them and maybe see a couple of their players. I had no idea that he was going to take me into the whole deal (laughs), but it was cool because I had so much respect for him.
Yeah, he was like ‘Come on, Coach,’ and I was like, ‘OK.’ I didn’t know their locker room, and it was all done authentically. I wasn’t trying to be a great sportsman. I wasn’t trying to be classy, any of that. I was just doing what I was taught, you know? When you lose, you look the guy in the eye, you shake his hand — as hard as it is — and maybe someday you get a chance to be on the other side of that.
It was originally difficult to see Williams’ speech as anything other than a great moment of sportsmanship. It’s even harder to view it otherwise now.
Bummed about losing then unexpectedly and suddenly getting thrust into Milwaukee’s celebration might have jarred some coaches. Unfortunately, Williams has experience speaking amid sorrow. His words hit the right notes:
I don’t want to take away from. I just wanted to come and congratulate you guys as a man, because you guys deserve it. And I’m thankful for the experience. You guys made me a better coach. You made us a better team. Congratulations.
I recommend reading Amick’s full interview to learn more about how Williams grew from an alright coach in New Orleans to a very good coach in Phoenix.