Today’s show features Pat Williams, motivational speaker, author of over 40 books, and co-founder and Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team.
He is a cancer survivor and featured speaker at two Billy Graham crusades. Pat and his wife Ruth have adopted fourteen children.
Ray: Hi, everyone, this is Ray Hilbert, I am your host here at the Bottom Line Faith program. We have the opportunity to travel the country and talk with some of America’s top Christian business owners, CEOs, sports and entertainment figures, but really individuals who are high capacity leaders who are living out their faith in the marketplace, and I am in Orlando, Florida, for the program. Today, I’m in the Amway Center in downtown Orlando and this is the home of the Orlando Magic. And my guest on today’s program, this is like a hero that I’m getting to sit down with today. A man that God has used for many, many decades. I’m sitting with Pat Williams. He is the Co-founder and Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic. Let me just read for you a little bit of his background. Basketball Hall of Famer. He is definitely one of America’s top motivational speakers and leadership experts. Pat and his wife, Ruth, have – listen to this – 19 children, 14 adopted children, and 17 grandchildren. Of course, he’s on Bottom Line Faith today and that’s a wonderful thing from our standpoint. But he’s been featured on CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, Mike and Mike, numerous other television specials and shows as well as Sports Illustrated, Reader’s Digest, Wall Street Journal, and many more. Folks, welcome Pat Williams, from the Orlando Magic.
Pat: Hi, Ray. Nice to be on with you. How are you doing?
Ray: I am terrific and I really am honored. Thank you for taking the time to be with us today. So Pat, on the program today, we’re going to talk about leadership. We’re going to talk about faith and leadership. We’re going to talk about your books and how you come up with your ideas and so forth. And we’re going to get to all that, but help our audience understand a little bit about your early years. Tell us a little bit about your childhood, where you grew up, and kind of walk us into how you came into a faith relationship with Christ.
Pat: I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. My dad was a high school coach and history teacher. My mother was a homemaker. There were four of us. I have three sisters. My life really was built around sports, particularly baseball. I played all three sports in high school. But baseball was my ticket. And I ended up at Wake Forest University. I was a catcher. I spent four years there. Then I moved on to Indiana University and got my master’s degree. In the meantime, I had signed with the Phillies. I was a minor league catcher for two years and that led to five years in the front office in the Phillies minor league system. And then 50 years ago, I left baseball. I was hired by the 76ers. Dr. Jack Ramsey brought me to Philadelphia where I started my career in the NBA. That led to four years as the GM of the Bulls and a year leading the Atlanta Hawks, then back to Philly for 12 years as the GM of the 76ers.
And then 32 years ago, we moved down here to Orlando to help start the Magic up as an expansion team, a new team. We’ve been here ever since. We got sand in our shoes, I guess. And in those years in Spartanburg, South Carolina, I was in my mid-twenties, and it was there that I was presented very clearly with the claims of Christ. And I’ve been a church goer. You know, I was not a heathen. I would probably have told you I was a Christian, but there was no personal relationship with a living Savior. That was something that had never really been presented to me. I never had focused on that. But I was 27 years old when I realized that I had a decision to make if I wanted to call myself a Christian, be assured of eternal life, and experience that abundant life on this earth.
I had to invite Christ into my heart. I did. I remember vividly; it was a specific time. February 22nd, I was in the office of the owner of our team, Mr. Little John, a godly man, strong Christian, and he encouraged me, you know, now’s the time. Pat, he said, in his soft, Southern draw. Now’s your time. Now, just go on ahead, Pat. You know, very emotional decision. So I’m instant proof that instantaneous conversion can take place. So I was heading one way and then minutes later I was off in a totally different direction.
Ray: I really appreciate hearing that story. You were how old at the time?
Pat: I was 27.
Ray: You shared with me before we started a recording that you will soon have a birthday coming up and you will turn how old?
Pat: I’ll be 78. So I’m at the 50 year mark in my spiritual journey as well as my pro-basketball journey. They were very tightly linked together there. And I had been trying to maneuver my way and keep my hands in trying to make my career move. But after I came to Christ, I had a peace in my heart and my message to the Lord was simply a, I’m going to remove my hands from my career. You’re in total charge and I’m out of this. And amazingly enough, I don’t know, about five months later, and that’s when the phone call came from Dr. Jack Ramsey. I’d never met him. He needed somebody to run his front office in Philly while he was going to take on coaching duties. There’s absolutely no way I could have known about that or maneuvered that or you know, no way. No way. So that decision to remove my hands from my life and my career was in God’s hands. And then everything since then, you know, my move to Chicago, I had nothing to do with that. And then on to Atlanta, back to Philly. The move down here, obviously in the same posture mentally. Lord, if you’ve got something for me, you want me to be doing, you know, make it abundantly clear. But, but I left it totally in his hands and he’s been guiding me in that area of my life very clearly.
Ray: That’s really an amazing story. And then Pat, you know, before we started recording, we prayed and one of the things that we specifically pray for here at Bottom Line Faith is that if there could just be one person that would hear this conversation, that they would be encouraged. Maybe they’re a young follower of Christ or what have you, and maybe they’re frustrated, maybe they’re discouraged or whatever. But maybe right now there’s someone listening to us who’s striving in their career. They’re stuck, and they’re not sure about that next step. And maybe they’re crying out to God. You just shared with us that the Lord just kind of has pulled you along. What advice or encouragement would you have for a young Christian leader who’s really feeling stuck right now in their career?
Pat: Well, I think just as I learned, right? It’s totally submit and turn your life over to the Lord. Just saying, Lord, I can’t control my life. I can’t maneuver my life. I can’t keep my hands in making all this work. I don’t know what’s going on out there. But you do. And I’m just going to completely relax and surrender all this to you. And if you’ve got other career moves for me, if you’ve got other things that you would like me to do with my life, you know, their locations. I’m sure you’ll make it abundantly clear to me. I think that’s the best advice I can give to any of it.
Ray: I love it. Peace in that, right? We don’t have to strive, we don’t have to fight. I love this concept of force vs. flow. We can either try to force things or we can just go in the flow of the Holy spirit and let the Lord lead us. That’s what I’m hearing is your story.
Pat: Yeah, that’s very definitely the case. So I think that’s how God wants to work in our lives. It’s just let him take care of it and, and just relax and turn all that over in the Lord. It’ll save a lot of wear and tear on your stomach lining and probably will prevent some ulcer attacks if you just let God take all that on him. He’s much better equipped for it.
Ray: I love it. I appreciate that. I’m very encouraged by that. Let’s talk a little bit about leadership. I would consider you, many that I’ve talked to would consider you really an expert in this area. And I’ve heard that if you study something for 15 minutes a day, in five years, you’re going to be a world renowned expert in it, or at least have knowledge of depth about it. So what you see, is you’ve got seven core principles of leadership, right? And I can read them if you’d like me to or you could share them; which would you prefer?
Pat: Well, I can share that very easily, Ray. I’ve done in my study of leaders of every great leader that I can find from Jesus, to George Washington, to Thomas Jefferson, to Abraham Lincoln, to the Roosevelt’s, all three of them including Eleanor, to Ronald Reagan, to Jack Welch, to Bear Bryant, to Pat Summitt, to Bill Belichick, I mean, on and on it goes. And I’ve studied all of them.
Ray: And these are people you’ve written about.
Pat: I’ve written about some of them, and I’ve examined all of their lives, right? And it’s quite amazing to me, that every single one of these leaders, when you get down to it, have seven core principles that have allowed them to be outstanding leaders. The good news is that all of us who are in leadership position, and that includes everybody who’s listening or watching, can emulate these and can apply these seven principles to their life and they can improve as leaders very quickly, like today.
So the first core principle is simply called vision. And great leader leaders are visionaries. They see the future before it gets here. They see farther down the road, they have a handle on where they’re headed. They’ve got specific goals in their life. But vision is a huge part. The key part of leadership, if the leader and his people don’t know where they’re headed, if they’re just drifting and wandering, nobody’s going to follow them anywhere. The second thing that great leaders possess is the ability to communicate that vision. They’re excellent communicators. They’ve really worked hard at their communication skills. They don’t take it for granted. They understand the importance in your communication, being clear and being concise, being correct, being consistent, being calm, cool, collected as you communicate. And that gives you as a leader, confidence and above all, it gives people who you are involved with, they feel a whole lot more confident because of your ability to communicate well.
People skills would be the third thing that I’ve learned. Great leaders care about people. They’re interested in other people. They have empathy for people and care about them. I guess the best way to say it is they love people. I’ve just done a book called Coach Wooden’s Forgotten Teams. It’s about this right here. One of the people I talked to said, John Wooden, Coach Wooden, wasn’t just good to people. He was great to people. This guy said to me, he wasn’t just good to people. He was great to people. That’s a good attribute of people-oriented leaders.
The fourth thing I can tell you about great leaders, they’re men and women of character. They have strong character. I think you can only go as high on the leadership ladder as your character will allow you. So in this case, we’re talking about honesty and integrity. We’re talking about responsibility. We’re talking about a humble spirit. We’re talking about a work ethic, and we’re talking about maturity and leadership. That’s part of character. And maybe the most important thing of all is influence. Influence, really when you get down to it, may be the key attribute of character-based leaders.
The fifth thing I can tell you about every great leader I’ve ever studied is they’re competent. They’re good at what they do, they’re good at solving problems, they’re good at spotting talent, and then meshing that talent into a team. In their heart of hearts, they’re all teachers. They’re very, very competent in teaching. And in order to be a lifelong teacher, they understand the importance of being a lifelong learner. That means they continue their formal education, perhaps, or they hang out with really smart people, or they’re lifelong readers. And Harry Truman once said, not all readers will be leaders, but all leaders must be readers.
Then the sixth thing I’ve learned about competent leaders is simply called boldness. A great leader understands that at the end of the day, it comes down to decisiveness. You’ve got to make decisions. You’ve got to do what George W. Bush said in the White House one day. He said, I’m the decider. He said, I decide what to do. Well, at the end of the day, that’s what great leaders have to do. They have to sell it. He’s got to be the decider. And if you don’t have a decider in your ranks, well guess what happens? Nothing happens. And organization just starts spinning. You know, they’re like a leaf in the pond. They just spin. They never do get anything done.
And then finally, servant-hearted leadership would be the seventh thing. Great leaders have an outlook. It’s not about me. It’s always about you. It’s not about building my resume, it’s about building yours. It’s not about advancing my career goals. It’s about advancing yours. And it’s not about my success, but the success of this organization that I’ve leading. That’s how servant-hearted leaders thinking.
So those are the seven principles that I have observed in every great leader that we examine and study and, you know, admire from afar. And as I mentioned, right. The good news is we’re all very capable of taking those seven principles and applying them in our own lives as leaders.
Ray: So you mentioned a lot of great leaders and obviously these principles you studied and written about your entire life. So if you had to identify one or two leaders that you’ve studied, that you’ve written about, that you would say most demonstrates, if you had to pick one or two, who would most demonstrate those seven traits about everybody you’ve studied?
Pat: Well, Jesus would lead the pack, without question. He exemplified all seven of them, you know, and in abundance. And John Wooden would be on my list. The great UCLA coach. Billy Graham would be on my list. George Washington. The more I study Washington, and the more I realized that without him, we may not have a country today. We may not have a country. That’s how important he was. And Abraham Lincoln. It’s good to let us through the five most difficult times in American history. And there was one thing, I mean it just kept him going cause so many people were leaning on him and pleading with him to settle with the South. You know, to go ahead and let them go. Just let them go. You know, let them have their own country down there, you know? But he was driven by the thought one nation, one nation. That was his vision; that was his vision. And that’s what kept him going, one nation, through so many tough times. So many battles that went against them. There’s so many generals who just didn’t general well, frustrated him to death. But he was absolutely unyielding on that basis of his vision. One country.
Ray: That’s a good start, right? That’s a great list.
Pat: Martin Luther King Jr., you know, I probably want him on that list. Ronald Reagan. You could probably come up with a pretty good, a pretty good field.
Ray: And you’ve written books on a lot of these folks and that’s really a great transition. So you’ve authored, did you say 108 books?
Pat: Well, this book is 108, and don’t ask me how it all happened. My high school English teacher would be stunned. Absolutely shocked. He would not believe this, but the ideas have kept coming. God has been very fruitful to me, you know, in allowing an idea to come.
Ray: But then you’ve got to take that idea and share it with a publisher and hope that they are as interested or enthusiastic as you are.
Pat: I’ve been very fortunate over these 40 plus years that there seem to be publishers who have said to my ideas, okay, we’ll do that. So as long as a publisher is willing to say yes, well then we’ll keep pouring them out.
Ray: And that’s amazing. That’s over two books a year on average over the last 40 plus years. You’re running an NBA franchise, you’ve got a big, big, big family. You’ve got a lot going on. How do you find that? How do you find that time? How do you find that inspiration to write so prolifically? That’s amazing.
Pat: Well, I stay very close to a few things in my life. I’m not a golfer. I’m not a fisherman. I do not watch four hours of television a night as the average American does. So my life is pretty simple. I read extensively because that helps fuel my speaking and my writing. Try and work out about an hour a day. Well, let me put it this way, right? If you need, if you’re going to sleep for eight hours, that leaves what, 16 hours a day, right? It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 16 hours if you don’t waste any of those minutes. Every one of those minutes to me is precious and I don’t want to waste any of them. So in 16 hours we can accomplish a great deal no matter what our field. No matter what our interest is. And my life is pretty simple.
I do look after my grandchildren. My children are all gone. They’re all out on their own. We’re empty nesters. So I focus on my writing and my reading and my speaking. Trying to stay in good shape physically. And I read, Ray, probably three to four hours a day. I’m convinced, first of all, the exercise it gives your cranial muscle is vital. They tell us that, you know, can hold off the ravages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s a very good way to keep this mind exercised and it fuels everything I’m doing. If I see something in a book, I’ll mark and fold the page, Xerox it, keep it on file. So when it’s time to write a book, you know, all my research basically is done through what I do.
Ray: That’s fascinating. As we transition here, Pat, let’s talk about faith. Let’s talk about faith in leadership. You talked about those seven aspects of leadership and those are all deeply rooted in Scripture, but what would be one or two biblical principles that really drive your leadership?
Pat: Well, I look at Jesus, you know, as I read through the four Gospels, you can study Jesus in many different ways, but I am here. Over the last few years, I’ve been fascinated and intrigued by how he led. I think one great, great problem with every leader that I’ve ever read is delegating. Okay, I want to write a book one day called Every Leader’s Greatest Struggle. I think it’s delegating. Every leader thinks, you know, I’ve got to do all this. There’s nobody can do it better. Nobody’s better qualified. But there’s Jesus who handpicks these 12 guys. I don’t think any of them were superstars, right? But he spent three years investing in them and teaching them and getting them ready because he knew he was leaving this earth and he left the whole message, the entire Christian faith in their hands. What an example of delegation. And every leader should really study that. And listen, those 12 guys, basically 11 of them, they did a beautiful job and then they went out in the world. Of course, Paul was a big part of that, but they went out and hit the entire known world, risked everything. Many of them died, horrible deaths we’re told, but they got the message going. They went over and as Jesus taught them and got them ready, and it continues on to this day. We’re now, you know, I don’t know what, 20 centuries later, but we’re now following in the footsteps of his disciples because he taught us about delegating.
And then the other thing, I think would come down to Jesus who could have been, he could have been the most cocky, arrogant. I mean, think about this for a minute. This is God who created the world. And he comes now down into this world as a human being, 100% human who, 100% God but 100% human. And he’s down here messing around with us. I mean, it’s a miracle that he just didn’t throw his hands up and say, I’m outta here. I mean, you guys are, I mean, all of you, you’re just impossible. But he made it very clear that he was here not to be served, but to serve. That foot washing experience that we read about late, late in his life. Boy, I still get kind of lumped up when I read about that. What a lesson that is about serving. Servant-hearted leadership. Think about that for a minute. That’s how, we’re to go about it. Those are two thoughts. The whole issue of delegation and going through our life and our daily leadership positions at home, at work, at church, coaching youth sports. We’re there really to be foot washers.
Ray: What’s the hardest decision that you can remember having to make in your life and maybe leadership and how did your faith play a role in that?
Pat: Oh, that’s a marvelous question. Maybe, I had an opportunity, in 1973. The Bulls, I was there for years. They were being sold to a new group and it was very evident that this was not going to work for me. And I had immediately, I had this offer to go to Atlanta to be the General Manager of the Hawks at the same time. Again, in a way I never could have imagined. I got a call from the President of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team asking or saying to me, we would like you to come here and become our General Manager of the Orioles baseball. Where I’d started, and left, oh, I guess five years prior. I elected to go to Atlanta and stay in the NBA. Oh, I’ve thought many times, you know, what would have happened? What would’ve happened? What would’ve happened? I didn’t even go in for an interview with them. I’ve often thought I should have, but I’ve really become very comfortable, very much at home in the NBA. I felt like I really had a handle on how to work in that league. Baseball would have been a new culture really, and I just wasn’t quite sure. But I’ve thought about it quite a number of times.
Ray: This might be a really interesting question, might be a little bit of a curve ball, talking about baseball. But if you were Ray Hilbert sitting across, as I am from you and you were interviewing Pat Williams, what would be one question that you would ask you that I haven’t asked?
Pat: I would ask him what other books would you like to write?
Ray: Yeah, that’s great.
Pat: Well, I would like to write a book called Walt Disney on Leadership. I would like to write a book called John Wooden on Leadership. I would like to write a book called The Reluctant Leader, cause I think there are many of them. For some reason or another, they’re reluctant to step up. There’s always a reason. Or once as a leader, they’re reluctant to delegate or they’re reluctant to have mentors, they’re reluctant to make bold decisions perhaps, or they’re reluctant to be a lifelong learner, or all of the above. I want to write that book. I don’t think anybody’s tackled that one in the leadership field: the reluctant leader. Those are some thoughts that come to mind.
Ray: Well, based on your current trajectory and pace of writing books, those six books, it’s at least the next two or three years and you’ll have those done. That will keep you going. What was the best advice anyone ever gave you, and how does it continue to impact you today?
Pat: Well, it probably took place in Chicago. I was the General Manager of the Bulls. Going to the Moody Church. Dr. Warren Wiersbe was the pastor at the time. Marvelous teacher, great Bible teacher. And I had been on a roll since becoming a Christian. You know, I had moved through baseball. I’ve been vaulted into the NBA, moved to Chicago. I mean, every single thing had just gone perfectly in my life. And then this would’ve been around ’72, ’73. It was like the wheels went off, fell off, everything became a struggle. It was not going well for me. And I kept thinking, “Lord, what’s this about? I’m your boy. Remember? I mean, this is not right,” you know. Anyway, I asked Dr. Wiersbe, he’d come over for lunch. I needed to talk to him. And he said to me, “Okay, Pat, what’s up?” And I told him all that was going on, and he looked at me and he said, “Don’t waste your sufferings here, Pat.” That’s not what I wanted to hear. I thought, where is this soft cushy shoulder? Where’s the hug? Perhaps some Kleenex. No, he just said, don’t waste your sufferings. Didn’t really register all that much at the time.
However, that was a long time ago and it’s really the single best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. Cause there have been many sufferings in my life, many failures, many issues that didn’t work out. They’re there; trust me. But as a result of them, I’ve come to the conclusion you don’t want to waste those tough times because in the tough times, we are so teachable. We cling tightly to the Lord when things are going rocky for us. Boy, we hang on. When things are going very well, I have a tendency to say, you know, I got this, I’ve got this one. I’m handling this just fine. But when they begin to fall apart at your feet, boy, we hang on tight to the Lord, and I think that’s what Dr. Wiersbe meant. You know, don’t waste those tough times because they’re not going to last forever. And on the other side of the tough times, you know the sun’s going to come out again and you want to be on the other side of that, of that tough times in a much better position to help people. You have to counsel them to encourage them and you can’t do it unless you’ve been through the struggle. If it’s all just been peaches and cream, hard to really get your arms around people who are having tough times.
Ray: On that note, you’ve had tough times. In 2011 diagnosed with incurable cancer. What has that tough time taught you and how has God used that to minister to others?
Pat: Well, let me just go back even further. 1947 we have a baby sister born into our family, but as it turns out, she’s a Down Syndrome baby. And that was unheard of back in those days. 1947. Then driving home from my college graduation, 1962, my dad was killed in an automobile accident. After 23 years of marriage, my wife left, and there I was single parenting, well, 18 children for several years. In 2011, I go in for my yearly physical and the doctor says, there’s something in your bloodwork that doesn’t look right, and I want you to see Dr. Reynolds. Well, I didn’t know Dr. Reynolds, but as it turns out, he was an oncologist and sitting in his office, he said, you have cancer. Well, that’ll get your attention. I said, I’ve got what? I just finished running the Disney marathon, my 58th marathon. He said, you’ve got cancer. I said, okay. He said, it’s called multiple myeloma. I’d never heard of it. It’s a blood cancer. I said, what’s the life expectancy? He said, well, two to three years. He said, but there’s some wonderful new medications coming along. We want to keep you alive long enough for these new meds to take effect. Well they have. And so I’m now in the eighth year and hanging in there. I share all that with you Ray, that we all have storms in our life. And I’m simply saying, don’t waste the storms, don’t waste them. So I can counsel people on a Down Syndrome children, or the loss of a parent, or struggles in a marriage. I can talk on that one. I can talk about cancer, I can talk about tough times on your job. I can talk about the ups and downs of sports and the precarious nature of this profession that so many people live in, but it’s only through living through them, and dealing with them, and accepting them, and not wasting those tough times. And I think that’s probably what I would share with you.
Ray: I got to tell you, this has been one of my favorite interviews.
Pat: Well, thank you.
Ray: It’s just such a blessing. Thank you for your time.
Pat: Good to be with you.
Ray: So I have one last question. It’s the last question I ask in every one of my interviews. I call it my 4:23 question. It’s based out of Proverbs chapter 4, verse 23. Solomon says, above all else, guard your heart for from it flows all of life. So Pat, I’d like you to fill in the blank as we close our program today. Above all else.
Pat: Well above all else, make sure that you accepted Christ, that you have invited him into your life and he is there. And by the Holy spirit, he is taking up residence in your heart so that you are assured of eternal destination in heaven. But that’s the only way to get there. There aren’t 15 different ways to get to heaven, and make sure that you’ve done it, by inviting Christ into your life in a bubble. And this is tough, Ray. I really wrestled with this and we don’t hear it much, but Jesus talked twice as much about hell as he did heaven. Think about that for a minute. And that’s not a joking matter. That’s not going to be just a big party. You know, as I read about it, it just absolutely wipes me out. There’s an urgency here, a real urgency to get the word out. We want you in heaven, folks. And it’s nothing you can do. I mean, it’s a simple matter. So simple that so many people miss it. Jesus, I’m inviting you into my heart. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for coming in. Thank you for taking residents and please seal this decision and help me to live the rest of my life for you. So anybody watching today or listening, they can make that simple little prayer. And that’s one prayer by the way, that the Lord will answer immediately. No hesitation on that one. He’ll respond to that one right away.
Ray: Just as he did for you back in your early twenties.
Pat: 1968, Feb 22nd. Now, many people, Ray can’t pinpoint that date and nothing wrong with that. But in my case sealed, it was a specific absolute on the money day and I’ve always remembered that
Ray: Pat Williams. Thank you, sir.
Pat: Thank you. Thanks for coming to Orlando.
Ray: It’s beautiful. Thank you for this time. Well folks, I’m your host here at Bottom Line Faith, Ray Hilbert, saying, thank you for joining us and we’ll catch you next time and I want to encourage you to continue to live out your faith in the marketplace each day. God bless.