September 30, 2023
Florida Icon: Former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams

Photo: Norma Lopez Molina

Pat Williams, age 79, is a sports executive and the co-founder of the NBA's Orlando Magic.

Florida Icon: Former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams

Art Levy | 7/26/2019

My dad was a high school history teacher and baseball coach, so I began hanging around his teams as a little boy. When I was 7, he took me to my first Major League Baseball game, old Shibe Park in Philadelphia, June of 1947. I never will forget walking into that ballpark, coming up the steps and all of sudden you get to the second level and, poof, you see the field. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was instantly smitten by the sights, the sounds, the smell and the color of baseball. It bit me hard and never let go. After that, my life was wrapped around sports.

As I began to speak to groups about leadership, that led to a book on leadership and that led to another book and another book — and other books on teamwork, winning and success. The next thing you know, I’ve written 110 books.

Why do people need motivation? Motivation does not last from one day to the next. That’s why we need to constantly seek ways to stay motivated, stay inspired, stay filled with hope.

The Phillies scouted North Carolina when I was a catcher at Wake Forest. Wes Livengood turned in the report about me. At the end, he wrote: “Has a future in the front office.” Pretty clairvoyant, as it turned out.

Eight and a half years ago, I went in for my physical, and they discovered that there was something in my bloodwork that didn’t look right. I ignored it, but a short while later, I had some excruciating back pain that came out of nowhere. Well, eventually I learned that was a tipoff for a blood cancer called multiple myeloma.

I became a Christian in February of 1968. I was 27. I knew something was missing in my life. I had a lot of success but inwardly there was an emptiness. My faith has become an important part of my life. Particularly through the tough times — and, boy, I’ve had them — that anchor of faith holds.

Everything rises and falls on leadership. It always has. It always will.

I’d been GM of the Philadelphia 76ers for 12 years, 1974 to 1986, and we’d had wonderful success, got to the finals four times, won it in 1983, but I was getting restless. I’m a builder at heart. I had met a businessman in Orlando by the name of Jimmy Hewitt and began some dialogue with him about pro basketball in Florida. Jimmy insisted that the best place to put a team would be in Orlando, not Tampa, not Miami. In 1986, I left Philly for Orlando.

We had four birth kids and then 14 adopted children over a 10-year period from 1983 to 1993, from four different countries — South Korea, the Philippines, Romania and Brazil. They’re all adults now. The oldest is 47; the youngest is 33. My wife initially had the vision, then I caught the bug. I became convinced that we could take the whole world under our roof.

I’ve been a book collector since I was 7. I love bookstores.

In team-building, when your best player is also your best leader, you have the perfect combination. If your best player is a screwup, if he just cares about himself, then you’ve got a mess.

Anytime you go to an Italian restaurant, you immediately have to check out the tiramisu. That’s an indication of how good the restaurant is.

Eventually, I had a stem cell transplant, and that got me into remission. I’m on an oral chemo now that has been very effective. I feel good. My energy level is good. I have a message, particularly to men: Do not neglect your yearly physical.

In June of 1962, my dad was killed in an automobile accident, driving home from our NCAA tournament game, which Wake Forest lost to Florida State. After the loss, I drove back home to Delaware with some of my friends, got to the house, and there was this huge mass of cars there. My mother came running out. She was worried that I heard something about my dad on the radio. She broke the news to me. The next week, I signed with the Phillies — a $500 bonus, $400 a month, and off I went to Miami, which was then a Phillies farm club. I still had to follow the dream I’d had since I was 7.

I read six, seven, eight books at a time. My goal is to finish one book every day.

Not long ago, I woke up and weighed 258 pounds. It shocked me. I should be around 200, so I have to lose 58 pounds. I’ll tell you what the problem was: Apple crumb pie from Publix. If you want to put on weight, go to the apple crumb pie section and make sure to buy a container of Cool Whip to go on top of the pie, and you can put on 20 pounds fast.

I have found that in any setting, whether it’s a press conference, whether it’s a speech, that a couple of well-timed one-liners can win over an audience very quickly.

In Philly, boos are part of your genetic makeup. You come out of the womb with your mouth formed in the shape of a boo, and it never leaves you. But, in Orlando, I never hear a boo.

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