Pat Williams: Living an Extreme Life

Pat Williams: Living an Extreme Life
Issue 13 // 1st Quarter // 2016 Category:Sports By: Lisa Huetteman

Pat Williams’ 100th book, Extreme Winning: 12 Keys to Unlocking the Winner Within You, could very well be an autobiography. It is chock-full of stories of individuals, many of them athletes, others from all walks of life, who share one thing: they have this extreme need, extreme desire to win.

After being immersed in the sports business his entire life, Pat had opportunities to study athletes up close, on his teams, opponents’ teams, and in the sports world in general. He noticed that these athletes are not normal men and women. They are abnormal. He calls them extremists. 

An Extreme Transformation

Early in his very successful career, Pat noticed another brand of athlete that was different.  They spoke differently. They had a different lifestyle. They had a sense of direction and purpose in their lives. And, they talked very openly about a personal relationship they had with Jesus Christ.  They were Christians.

No matter where they were, they were unashamed of this relationship. It was in that frame of mind that Pat, then a 27-year-old minor league baseball executive, began to search and try to get a handle on what it was that made these folks different. 

One evening, in Spartanburg, SC, where Pat was serving as the President of the Spartanburg Phillies, he attended a concert hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ.  A pretty young woman got his attention, so he maneuvered over toward her in the hopes that he could dazzle her with his charm and personality. 

“She dazzled me with this faith she kept talking about,” said Pat. “And she handed me a booklet which I had never heard of, called The Four Spiritual Laws.  I went back to my apartment and read it that night. To some degree, I was really troubled. But, I wanted more.” 

Knowing that the group was leaving early the next morning, Pat arranged to meet this young woman again before their bus departed.  “Over breakfast, she very carefully and clearly outlined for me the steps involved to understand what the Gospel is, how to receive Christ as your Savior, have your sins forgiven, start experiencing an abundant life, and look forward to an eternal destination. At 10:00 AM, they left, and I was standing there holding this little booklet.”  

Overwhelmed by the whole thing, Pat wanted to respond to what she laid out. But he needed someone to talk to, so he went to the office of the owner of the team, Mr. R.E. Littlejohn.  “Mr. Littlejohn was a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, a very successful oil executive who loved baseball and loved me.  He had been praying for me and investing in me for the better part of three years.”

Pat told him what had happened, and Mr. Littlejohn put his arm around him and said, “Pat, your time has arrived.” 

Overwhelmed with emotion, Pat began to weep.

“I knew something very important was taking place. When I got straightened out and dried my face, I realized that I had received Jesus Christ into my life, and there was an absolute transformation that had taken place. I felt totally forgiven. There was a peace that enveloped me. I was a new creation. In the Bible, which had always been part of my life, the Word of God was suddenly leaping off the pages.”

That was almost 50 years ago.

Up to this point, Pat was front and center, driving, steering, and maneuvering his career and doing everything he could to direct it and take it to where he wanted it to go. But at that moment, Pat prayed, “Lord, I’m here in Spartanburg (SC), and I’ll stay here forever, if that is what you want. I love my life in sports, but Lord, if you want me in some other field, a pastor or a missionary, Lord, you direct me.” 

An Extreme Career

The Lord directed an amazing, perhaps even extreme, career.  Although Pat has spent over 47 years in the NBA, his heart originally belonged to baseball, a sport he fell in love with at the age of seven, and was his entry into the professional sports world. But about four months after turning his life over to God, his career took a different turn.  

In 1968, Pat received a call from Dr. Jack Ramsay, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team. Jack Ramsay was about to become the coach of the 76ers and needed someone to run the front office.  He wondered if Pat would be interested. Although Pat knew of him, he had never met him before. “I was 28 years old, and he offered me this job to run the ball club! There was no maneuvering on my part.”

A year later, at the age of 29, Pat was recruited to be the general manager of the Chicago Bulls and served in that position until 1973, when he left to serve as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks. After one season with the Hawks, he returned to Philadelphia where he spent 12 seasons and played a pivotal role in bringing the 1983 NBA championship to the city.  

His departure from Philadelphia, was an extreme leap of faith.  In 1986, Pat was invited by some business leaders to come to central Florida to try to convince the community, and the NBA, that Orlando should have the next expansion team.  He packed up his family, which included six young children at the time, and left his home town to pursue that dream.  A year later, the NBA granted the franchise, and in April of 1987, the Orlando Magic was born. Pat currently serves as the organization’s Senior Vice President.

“Throughout my 47 years in the NBA, with various stops along the way, God directed all of them. I didn’t do anything. He simply opened doors where they needed to be opened.  He has directed my paths, as we are taught in Proverbs 3:5-6.”  

An Extreme Man

Beyond his extremely successful career, all facets of his life are the reflection of an extreme man.  He started running marathons at the age of 55 and logged 58 of the 26.2 mile runs, including 13 Boston Marathons, by the time he turned 70. As a family man, Pat leads the pack as an extreme parent.  He and his wife Ruth are the parents of 19 children, 14 of whom were adopted from four foreign countries.  At one time, there were 16 teenagers in the Williams home at the same time. An extreme reader, he has read over 7,000 books and still has each one in his personal library. 

On the health front, Pat has overcome the statistical odds in his battle with multiple myeloma. Diagnosed four and a half years ago with this aggressive blood cancer, Pat defied the normal two to three year life expectancy and is currently in remission. “A lot of people have been praying for me, and I’ve learned a lot from this.” Pat reflected.

“The Lord has opened my eyes in many different ways. If I could go back and not experience this, I’d choose to stay with the path that he has prepared for me, and cancer is a big part of it.” 

“There is a big wide world of cancer research and cancer encouragement and cancer education,” Pat continued. “He’s got me in the middle of all of it. Certainly it was not my plan, but God had this in his pipeline for me. I was a reluctant volunteer, but now I am fully immersed.”

As he publishes his 100th book, the extreme writer is not about to stop.  He has many more book projects in the works.  The ideas keep bubbling up. Where do they come from? 

“I think the Lord springs them up in my life from people I meet or places I go. Maybe something I read sparks a concept. Then, I begin to think it through and draft an outline. Then comes the key part—presenting it to various publishers. Nothing happens until the publisher says ‘yes.’ Many have said ‘no’ to my ideas.  I still have book ideas that are percolating in my mind.”

At 75, his desires haven’t waned. He has books that need to be written, numerous speaking invitations to fulfill, and 14 grandchildren that he is helping to educate, which is a never-ending need and a passion that keeps driving him. Retirement never comes up.  

“We’ve got a basketball team that we are working hard to take to the top and become a championship quality team, and I’m still very much a part of that. Nothing has changed from 30-40 years ago. I write books, I speak, we have a basketball team, I raise grandchildren now, and cancer has been added to my life. That is who I’ve always been and who I am. Extreme people never retire. They can’t. They’d go crazy.”

Most importantly, Pat’s words of wisdom to those who will read this:

“Stay close to your family. Stay close to your work. Stay engaged in life. Keep exercising your mind. Keep reading. Hang around young people, they will keep you energized and current. Do what you love to do. Read the newspapers every day. Help your local candidates. Don’t waste your best years. You have so much to offer; keep giving back. Most importantly, keep the Lord paramount in your life. Spend time in His Word. Stay close to Him in prayer, and stay active in His work.” 


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