Pat Williams, author, motivational speaker, radio show host, and Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic, has led an uncommon and inspirational life. Along with his remarkable business accomplishments spanning more than 50 years in professional sports, he and wife Ruth are the parents of 19 children, including 14 adopted from four different nations. For one year, 16 of his children were all teenagers at the same time.
Williams is one of the most successful and influential executives in NBA history, as well as one of the country’s top motivational and inspirational public speakers. He has addressed thousands of executives in business organizations and nonprofits, including many Fortune 500 companies. He is also the author of more than 70 books – among them, “How to Be Like Jackie Robinson: Life Lessons from Baseball’s Greatest Hero.”
Q. You have had quite an amazing career, not only with the NBA, but as a motivational speaker, author, radio show host and more. How do you manage to do everything that you do? How do you fit it all into one day?
A. I think it’s important to stay close to those things that are important to you. There are a lot of areas that I don’t stay close to or have an interest in. I’m not a fisherman. I’m not a golfer. It’s important that I read. That fuels my writing and helps my speaking and my part in helping run the Magic basketball team. There are three or four really great interests in addition to my family and I stay very close to them. It’s amazing what you can get done in a 16-hour day, as long as you’re not wasting time. Treat every minute as a valuable asset.
Q. I read about your recent health challenges. That has probably helped even more to make every moment count.
A. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I was diagnosed 2-1/2 years ago with multiple myeloma – an illness I never had heard of – but it’s cancer of the blood and the bone marrow. That’s become part of my life now for the last 2-1/2 years. Between the treatments and the doctors appointments and the time I’m spending now to encourage other people who are going through this kind of battle, I’ve been called to that effort here in this latter part of my life.
At first, I fought it and I couldn’t believe it, but now I think the Lord has allowed it and I’m out there in the middle of a cancer battle. Every minute of the day right now is taken and I’m trying to stay focused. As Coach John Wooden said years ago, “Make each day your masterpiece.” That’s good advice for all of us.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your job as the Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic? What exactly do you do in that position?
A. Well, 27 years ago, I arrived here in Orlando after 12 years with the 76ers. The mission was to try and put shoe leather to a dream and bring an NBA expansion team here to Orlando. I joined up with some business leaders and government leaders and we went after it as hard as we could. In April of 1987, the league did award us a franchise and we’re getting ready next fall for our 25th anniversary season, so I’ve been here from before the get-go helping to lay the groundwork.
In my early years, I carried the title of President and General Manager. My current title is Cofounder and Senior Vice President, so I’m still involved in much of the running of the team and I’m very grateful for that.
I’ve been here a long time. I do have the freedom to write, which is an important part of my life right now, and I’m speaking around the country somewhere seemingly every week. The team has been very generous and gracious in giving me the freedom to do that, because I definitely have an intense desire to pass on to the next generation those lessons that I’ve learned over the years, and I think I’m called to that area as well.
Q. When you look at today’s youth, what are a few of those lessons that you think would be important for them to know and that you’ve learned through experience?
A. I think the most important thing I could tell today’s youth is to figure out, as early as you can in life, what your passion is, what you love to do, what really, really lights your fire. I was fortunate at age 7 to fall in love with baseball and, later, basketball. Through my youth, those sports just dominated my life and I knew back then that’s how I wanted to make my living.
So, for over 50 years now, I’ve been involved in professional baseball and basketball and have made my living doing what I fell in love with as a kid. I think that if a youngster can capture that and build that into his or her life, they are well on their way. Of course, you’ve got to get the training and you have to have the proper education. You need some breaks and you need some doors open for you. But I think that’s the single best piece of advice I can give any young person.
Q. I’d like to ask you a little bit about all the kids that you’ve raised. How did you get involved in that and what kinds of challenges did you face raising that many kids from such diverse backgrounds?
A. Well, it was quite a story. From 1983 to 1993, we adopted 14 children from around the world – four from South Korea, four from the Philippines, two from Romania, and four from Brazil. They are now all grown, which is great news. The youngest is 27 and the oldest is 41. There was no master plan, I can say that. We just had a hard time saying no. People often ask, “Did you have all this laid out?” and the answer is no. We learned about children and kind of shrugged our shoulders and said, “You know what? We could do that. What’s two more?” So, we’d give the other kids a vote, although our vote could overrule them at any time. But, the next thing you know, we had this massive family with $80,000 a year food bills (laughs). We never really counted the cost in advance, but we did feel the Lord leading us to do it and it’s very rewarding now that these children are all grown and out in the real world living their adult lives.
Q. You mentioned your work as a writer and I can’t believe you’ve written over 70 books. That must take an amazing amount of discipline and dedication. Why did you decide to write a book about Jackie Robinson?
A. There is a movie out and it’s a must-see for everybody. It’s called “42” and it talks about Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in Major League Baseball. It covers the years 1945, ’46 and ’47. I wrote a book not long ago called “How to Be Like Jackie Robinson.” It’s a really in-depth look into the life of this man and what we can learn from him. With this movie out now, which is getting rave reviews and really must be seen, I think the book fills out the other pieces.
People will see that movie and they’ll say, “I need more – what happened throughout the course of his life?” and we’ve captured that in this book. But, it’s not a pure biography of Jackie Robinson. It’s a teaching book, a life lesson book. What can we take from Jackie and apply to our own lives? I think that’s really the thrust of the book. Between the movie and this book, I think you’re going to come away with a new appreciation for this great American hero.
Q. You mentioned the life lessons that people can take from him. Of course, we want to encourage everyone to read the book, but can you give me a few examples of the life lessons that you think would apply to people today?
A. The first thing that comes to mind is courage. Jackie had enormous courage to take on this huge, huge effort to break the color line, and we all need courage in our life. It may not be at that level that Jackie had to display in the mid ‘40s but, without courage, we’re all going to fall by the wayside.
Secondly what comes to mind is self discipline. Branch Rickey, the President of the Dodgers, made it very clear to Jackie that there could be no retaliation, no matter what was said or done to him, on or off the field; that he would have to turn the other cheek for three years and not fight back – which really was probably not Jackie’s nature. But Mr. Rickey made him promise and Jackie did promise and, no matter what came his way in those years of baseball, he honored that commitment with extreme self discipline to restrain himself when he probably didn’t want to.
And then, the third thing that comes to mind is leadership. Jackie was a leader on the Dodgers, he led later in life in his business, in the civil rights movement, in the political field. Jackie was a leader and there’s so much we can learn about leadership from him. And, of course, we all have opportunities to lead in our homes and our communities. If you do nothing but lead yourself, you’re in the leadership business.
Q. I also read that you had a mentor yourself – an oil tycoon?
A. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have mentors and life coaches that have come through my life – youth coaches when I was growing up as a kid in Wilmington, Delaware and beyond. The key person probably was a man named R.E. Littlejohn. He was in the tanker trailer business, the oil business, in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
He was co-owner of the Phillies minor league club there when I arrived as a 24-year-old minor league General Manager and, for four years, Mr. Littlejohn poured himself into my life. He was a mentor, he was an incredible teacher, and he just made a huge difference. He had a great gift called wisdom and he implanted that wisdom in people who would come and sit at his feet really and learn about life, and I was probably his number one disciple.
It’s important, as a young person growing up, to have those people available to you. I think, in most cases, you’ve got to seek them out. But, when you find a man or a woman who has been through life experiences and has an enormous amount of wisdom, what a blessing that is if you can get close to them.
Q. You’ve already touched on this, but I wanted to come back to the question of career advice. Can you summarize your best career advice for those who might be struggling to figure out what they want to do with their life?
A. I think we talked about finding that area that you really enjoy – that you would work for nothing for. I think that really is important. But, you’ve got to get the training. You’ve got to have the education. I encourage young people, when they finish college, to go get your master’s degree right away. Don’t hesitate, because it’s so competitive out there and you’re going to need a master’s degree, really, to compete in the job market. Once that is done, right after college – at this point you’re probably 23-1/2, not even 24 yet – and you’ve got both your degrees, undergrad and master’s. You’re ready to attack life with a full resume, educationally.
Then, find out that area that you’re good at and what you want to do and plow in with everything you’ve got. Outwork people. I think the two most important words in the English language are “what else.” What else can I do? What else can I offer? What else can I bring here? What else can I contribute? And then, the best question ever is, “How can I help?” With that kind of an attitude, it would take three people to replace you.
Q. I think that’s fabulous advice. Is there anything else you would like to talk about or mention before we close?
A. People can visit my website, PatWilliams.com and Twitter page (@OrlandoMagicPat). The book that we’re talking about is “How to Be Like Jackie Robinson,” and Amazon is a great way to order. And, above all, go see this movie, “42.” You don’t have to be a baseball fan, but it’s a powerful movie and will leave a deep imprint on your life.
Pat Williams was born in Philadelphia on 3rd May, 1940. Since childhood, his dream was to have a career in sports. He fell in love with baseball and basketball. He didn’t quit studying; in fact, he got a bachelor and master degrees in physical education. He then joined the army and served his country for 7 years. His sports career started when he played for Miami Marlins as a pitcher. He couldn’t pursue his sports career as a player due to an injury. Fortunately for him, the manager of the team he was playing with asked him to work with the team as the business-manager. He performed duties in different roles for different baseball teams for a couple of years before he transferred his career to basketball. Williams’s basketball career was a complete success; he lead his team to NBA finals several times.
He married Patricia J. Williams in 1973. They have nineteen children, most of whom they adopted from different countries. In this interview, Williams talked about his family; how his children are all grown up and how the whole experience of having so many kids brought happiness into his life.
Williams is currently battling with cancer. He heard this news from his doctor in 2011. The doctor told him he might have three or so years left. Being a fighter his own life, he told his medical team to try every treatment, every medicine that can help stop or slow down the disease. His determination helped him stay alive. He looks just fine and is now motivating other cancer patients with his inspiring story.
This awful disease did not stop him from doing what he loves. He is active in the community doing great things. He is also a motivational speaker. He is also a writer; he has written more 90 books. His books over a variety of topics such as, leadership, sportsmanship, religion, relationship, marketing, career, etc.
His advice for the younger generation is to find where your interests lie and to do this as soon as possible. The sooner you realize what your dream job is, the better. Everyone should get proper education. Earn you bachelor and master degree then look for the job you always dreamed of. Getting proper education is the key. You cannot leave education behind even if you want to become a musician. Get proper and good education. If you are looking for some awesome advice about leadership, career choice, etc. then check the books Williams wrote.