RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Ingrid Williams was supposed to be here.
It was about this point of the Olympics that she planned to join her husband, U.S. men’s basketball assistant coach Monty Williams. The couple would likely visit Christ the Redeemer statue, a symbol of Brazil’s beauty and their faith, and spend time together just before the hectic start of the school year for their five children.
But when Ingrid Williams died on Feb. 11 at age 44, it meant he would experience Rio alone.
“So a little bittersweet, but at the same time we’ve had to manage that and move forward,” Williams said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ingrid Williams was on her way home after picking up one of their daughters from her basketball game when her car was struck head-on in Oklahoma City by a SUV that crossed the center line after losing control. The other driver, Susannah Donaldson, also died.
Williams preached forgiveness and compassion for Donaldson and her family during a powerful eulogy at his wife’s funeral. He said that message hasn’t changed, even after the police report later showed that Donaldson was driving 92 mph a second before impact, with drugs in her system and a dog on her lap.
“Well, I knew all that stuff,” Williams said. “I knew it way before the public knew about it. So doesn’t change it, but obviously I’m not happy with what happened and how it happened.
“I’ve never had any bitterness toward that lady or that family, I was more disappointed that it was just my wife and that she had to die so early. That was where my disappointment lied. I’ve said this before, I’m a man who has been forgiven much, and a cornerstone of my faith as a Christian is forgiveness. That doesn’t always make it easy, but nonetheless that’s what I have to do.”
His children’s health makes it easier. Three of them were in the car, with one badly injured, but he said you can’t even tell that when seeing her now.
“She had multiple fractures in her face when I first saw her. I thought she was dead when I first saw her in the hospital because I just couldn’t see my child living through that, so to see them now I am so blessed to have all five of my kids,” Williams said.
“Obviously I’d love to have my wife, but the beauty of all this is I know where my wife is. I know she’s in heaven. My kids have seen God bring us through a lot of stuff in the last six months and I’m thankful and sad at the same time. It’s kind of hard to describe, but I’m very thankful that my kids are OK.”
Williams spent just half a season in Oklahoma City as Billy Donovan’s assistant coach, not returning to the team following the accident. That was long enough for Williams and his family to make an impact on the team and community, just as he had during his five seasons as coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.
“That’s my guy, man,” said Kevin Durant, who has often worked out with Williams during U.S. practices this summer. “I learned so much from him in a short amount of time and probably, easily one of the best people I know.”
Williams was hired for Mike Krzyzewski’s U.S. staff for the 2014 Basketball World Cup. Even after not returning to the NBA, he knew he wouldn’t miss the chance to rejoin the Americans for the Olympics.
“Nobody ever said, ‘Hey, we need a decision,’” Williams said. “I kind of put pressure on myself to make a decision because I’ve been in that position of running an organization, so I know how important it is to have people in place well in advance. So I was more concerned with holding them back.
“Once I made the decision to not come back to OKC, I think everybody just assumed that I might not do this and they are just two different situations altogether.”
His children — Lael, Faith, Janna, Elijah, and Micah — were with Williams during their exhibition tour, but are back home in Texas now with school starting next week. Williams is eager to get back with them, but first he hopes to make the Olympic trip he planned with his wife.
Christ the Redeemer, rising high above the city not far from where the Americans are practicing, was “on our bucket list,” Williams said. Ingrid, who enjoyed reading the Bible and encouraging others through scripture, would’ve been the perfect companion for the trip, just as she was during their 20 years of marriage.
Players have already gone, and Williams might as well.
“It’s the only thing I really want to do. I’d rather go do that than go to any of the events,” Williams said. “We drive by it every time we come to practice, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to do it.”
Being back on the bench has reminded Williams how much he loves coaching, and he knows he’ll do it again, even if it can’t be yet.
“I’ll just take it one day at a time. I’m not concerned with where I am in my career, just because the Lord’s always taken care of all that,” Williams said. “My kids right now are the priority and I just want to get back home and make sure they’re in a good spot. Obviously working in the NBA is really important to me, but at the same time there’s a few other things that need to happen for me to get back to that point.”
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