Souls of Steel

How to Build Character in Ourselves and Our Kids


By Pat Williams

With Jim Denney

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Pat Williams has shown us what traits are vital for effective leadership and how to develop those skills in our children. In Souls of Steel, he focuses on one specific trait: Character. He explains why character matters and why so many young people today think issues like character, integrity, morality, and truth are relics of a bygone era. He shows us that to be individuals who contribute positively to our world they must have Souls of Steel.



With deep appreciation I acknowledge the support and guidance of the following people who helped make this book possible:

Special thanks to Alex Martins, Bob Vander Weide and Rich DeVos of the Orlando Magic.

Thanks also to my writing partner Jim Denney for his superb contributions in shaping this manuscript.

Hats off to four dependable associates—my assistant Latria Graham, my trusted and valuable colleague Andrew Herdliska, my longtime adviser Ken Hussar and my ace typist Fran Thomas.

Many people helped me with the research for this book. I am grateful to Josh Looney, Jennica Pearson, Bobby Williams, Mary Lynn Nesbit, Michael Williams and Nasreen Malik.

Hearty thanks also go to my friends Rolf Zettersten, Gary Terashita and the capable staff at Hachette Book Group. Thank you all for believing that we had something important to share and for providing the support and the forum to say it.

I especially want to thank the many people from all walks of life who contributed their thoughts and stories to this effort. There were literally hundreds of people who shared their insights with me—so many that I was overwhelmed by their generous and enthusiastic responses. My only regret is that space limitations prevented me from including everyone's input and acknowledging each one by name.

And finally, special thanks and appreciation go to my wife, Ruth, and to my wonderful and supportive family. They are truly the backbone of my life.


Steel Embedded in Flesh

"The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out."


The summer after my eighth-grade year, I tried out for a sandlot baseball team. I made the cut and was the youngest player on the team by far. I felt a strange mixture of elation and self-doubt: Yes! I'm on the team—but can I really perform at this level?

My mother drove me to my first game. My grandmother sat in front with Mom, while I sat in back. As we drove, we talked about my prospects with the team. At one point, I said, "If things don't work out, I can always quit."

My grandmother whirled around, looked me in the eye, and jabbed her finger in my chest. "You . . . don't . . . quit!" she said. "Nobody in this family quits!"

I got that message, loud and clear—and I didn't quit.

That was a huge character-building moment in my life. That early lesson in perseverance served as the foundation for everything else I have accomplished in life. Let me give you one example of how my grandmother's words have echoed down through my adult life.

Journalist David Whitley of The Orlando Sentinel called June 19, 1986, "one of the biggest days in Orlando history," a day that "has had an incalculable effect on Central Florida." That was the day Orlando businessman Jimmy Hewitt announced plans to bring a National Basketball Association team to Orlando. It's the day he introduced an NBA executive from Philadelphia as the man who would hammer that dream into a reality.

That Philadelphia basketball exec was me.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the birth of the Orlando Magic ranks up there with the day Walt Disney decided to build a Florida theme park or the day they squeezed the first glass of Florida orange juice. But ever since that June day more than two decades ago, the Magic has been an integral part of the culture and economy of the greater Orlando region. Pro basketball is big business, and it produces jobs, prosperity, tourism, and tax revenue.

By David Whitley's count, the first twenty years of Orlando Magic history also generated exciting entertainment for 10,497,076 paying fans, who attended 1,422 games and saw 113,065 shots which netted 136,834 points. The 143 players who donned Magic blue jerseys also accounted for 3,400 celebrity appearances at charity functions. The lives of Central Florida youngsters have been dramatically impacted by the millions of dollars distributed by the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation.

I have to tell you: I honestly question whether any of those numbers would have been racked up if my grandmother hadn't jabbed her finger in my chest and said, "You . . . don't . . . quit!"

Understand, I'm not claiming I single-handedly built the Magic organization. It took a lot of people to make Magic happen in Orlando. But in those prehistoric days of the summer of '86, the Orlando Magic "organization" consisted of little more than Jimmy Hewitt, Pat Williams, and a Kelly Girl we hired to type letters and answer the phone. The Kelly Girl and I shared a secondhand desk in a closet-sized office we rented from sports attorney Robert Fraley.

I left a secure, well-paid job as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, which won the NBA championship just three years earlier. I'd been managing a team that boasted the legendary Doctor J (Julius Erving) and a youthful Charles Barkley. I was also the sole breadwinner for a family of six children. So the decision to quit my job, uproot my family, and move to Orlando was not an easy one.

The NBA had made no commitment to grant an expansion franchise to the city of Orlando. In fact, the odds were against it. Many more populous markets (including two Florida cities, Miami and Tampa–St. Pete) were competing against us for a new franchise. I was taking a huge personal and professional risk in trying to build an NBA franchise in Central Florida.

In order to convince the league that Orlando was a serious contender, I had to go around town, selling season tickets (at a hundred bucks a pop) for a team that might never exist. I made the rounds of every Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, and Odd Fellows club in the area. I gave my sales pitch to people in the checkout line at the health food store and the dentist's waiting room. If you put a fruit cup in front of me, I'd stand up and give a speech.

I worked fourteen- to eighteen-hour days all through the summer and fall of 1986. On October 20, I presented 14,176 season ticket deposits to the NBA board of governors—the highest season ticket base of all the cities being considered for expansion. NBA commissioner David Stern was impressed. Armed with only a few flip charts and graphs, I made my pitch. I heard later, after I left the room, one of the NBA owners said, "Wow! Pat Williams talked for half an hour without notes! Incredible!"

Well, it wasn't so incredible. I had already criss-crossed the Sunshine State umpteen-hundred times, giving that same speech everywhere I went. Believe me, I knew my lines. And the result of that half-hour presentation? As David Stern later told The Orlando Sentinel, "All the energy and enthusiasm that was generated" in Central Florida caused the league to "reassess how large a market had to be."

On January 5, 1987, we broke ground for the Orlando Arena, and one week later, I presented David Stern with a jar of dirt from the ground-breaking. In April of that year, the NBA board of governors granted an expansion franchise to Orlando. The Magic played its first game on November 4, 1989, at the Orlando Arena. The rest, as they say, is history.

That experience has truly been the fulcrum of my life. Everything I've done since as a writer, speaker, and sports executive has been shaped by the lessons I learned through that marathon experience of turning magical dreams into reality. It took incredible perseverance from a lot of people to get the job done. Many times, when the odds seemed impossible and the goals unattainable, I wondered, What have I gotten myself into? There's no way this team is ever going to happen.

But it never occurred to me to think, Well, if things don't work out, I can always quit. I honestly believe the Magic organization, the arena, the sports history we've made, and the benefits to the entire Central Florida community exist today because my grandmother glared at me and said, "You . . . don't . . . quit! Nobody in this family quits!"

I'll be forever grateful to my grandmother. She hammered a steel rod of character into my spine that day—and that steel rod has been embedded in my flesh and my bones ever since.

"Character" Versus "Reputation"

I have always looked up to John Wooden as a role model and a hero. Coach Wooden, the "Wizard of Westwood," led the UCLA Bruins basketball team to a never equaled ten NCAA national championships. Without question, Coach Wooden is the greatest college basketball coach in history, which is why I have written a book about his life, How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons from Basketball's Greatest Leader. Shortly before that book was released, I asked Coach Wooden to reflect on the issue of character—what it is, where it comes from, and how we can maintain it.

"I first became aware of the importance of character," Coach told me, "in my grade school days. From the time I was very young, my father would say, 'Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are. Your reputation is merely how you are perceived by others.' When I graduated from grade school, my father gave me a piece of paper on which he had written, 'Son, always try to live up to this.' Today, I call his advice 'The Seven-Point Creed.'"

As he said this, Coach Wooden gave me a copy of The Seven-Point Creed. Here's what I read:

• Be true to yourself.

• Make each day your masterpiece.

• Help others.

• Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.

• Make friendship a fine art.

• Build a shelter against a rainy day.

• Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

For years, Coach Wooden carried that piece of paper in his wallet. Eventually, the paper wore thin and the words began to fade. So, while it was still legible, he made a copy for himself, plus additional copies to hand out to others. Coach told me his life goal was to live up to that creed.

When I asked Coach Wooden the secret to winning in sports or in life, he told me, "In a word, character. Ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there." And it is Coach Wooden's character that is remembered by everyone who knows him. As NBC sportscaster Bob Costas once observed, "John Wooden is a man of integrity and has always remained true to what he believes."

I asked Coach how he instilled character qualities in the young people he taught and coached. "I required my players and students to treat everybody with respect," he said, "whether it be the custodian or the president of the university. I told them I expected them to always be considerate of others, and I never permitted the use of profanity." Once, while coaching the Bruins, John Wooden decided not to recruit one of the nation's hottest high school players because he heard the boy speak disrespectfully to his mother. Coach knew that a player who would show open disrespect to his mom would be a bad character risk on the court and in the classroom, and his bad attitude might well infect the whole team.

Sportscaster and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton played for Coach Wooden from 1970 to 1974, during the pinnacle of the Wooden era when UCLA won an NCAA record eighty-eight straight games. Walton credits the team's unparalleled success to Coach Wooden's focus on character. As Walton explains in a tribute to Coach on his Web site, "[Coach Wooden] never talks about winning and losing but rather about the effort to win. He rarely talks about basketball but generally about life. He never talks about strategy, statistics or plays but rather about people and character. And he never tires of telling us that once you become a good person, then you have a chance of becoming a good basketball player or whatever else you may want to do."

Coach Wooden's influence on others has spread far beyond the world of athletic competition. Dr. John Pagel is an oncology specialist and researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle. He specializes in leukemia, lymphoma, and bone marrow transplants. Dr. Pagel told me, "As a kid I grew up watching UCLA basketball, and I once had the privilege of meeting Coach John Wooden. When I met him, he talked about success and how to achieve it, using his famous Pyramid of Success to make the point. I was so impressed with what he had to say I placed a framed Pyramid of Success poster on my wall. I still have it on my bedroom wall today. I have now used the John Wooden Pyramid as a teaching tool for my sons and for the lads in the many youth organizations I am involved in."

Coach Wooden was a teacher and role model of character because his father taught him by word and example, "Your reputation is merely how you are perceived by others, but your character is who you really are." A politician may have a great reputation for character—until he is caught taking a bribe. An author may have a great reputation for character—until she is exposed as a plagiarist. A pastor may have a great reputation for character—until he is caught in a tryst with the church secretary.

Your reputation is your outer image. Your character is your inner reality. It's possible to live for years behind a façade, with no one suspecting who you really are. You can pretend to have integrity while living a lie—for a while. You might even fool your family and friends.

But the façade eventually crumbles. The dissonance between the real you and the pretend you will become visible sooner or later. And when your failed character is exposed in the form of ethical corruption, dishonesty, sexual immorality, substance abuse, or moral cowardice, it will cost you. It may cost you your career, your marriage, your family, or even your freedom. It will certainly rob you of your reputation and self-respect.

Don't let that happen to you. Be a person of character. Teach, exemplify, and live out authentic character every day of your life.

Something No One Can Take Away

Brian Roquemore is president and CEO of America's All Stars, Inc., an Orlando-based organization devoted to developing strong character in students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The organization works with schools and community organizations to promote responsible behavior, academic success, a positive work ethic, and patriotism.

"When I was growing up," Brian told me, "my father had an auto parts store. One of his main employees was a counterman named Arch, who took calls and parts orders from car dealers, gas stations, and independent garages. Arch wrote up the orders, took the items off the shelf, then handed them to me—the delivery driver. I would drive that truck as fast as I could, trying to impress our customers with our great rush service (and I enjoyed any excuse to drive fast).

"Arch taught me a lot about character—not by what he said but by the way he lived. In the auto parts business, if you send the wrong part, you soon hear about it, usually with a lot of four-letter words. Mistakes were usually the fault of a mechanic who ordered the wrong part—yet Arch graciously took the blame as if it were his fault. He loved his job and was never late to work. He was cheerful and positive, and he never had a negative word to say about anyone. Arch knew everyone in town and everyone knew him.

"A committed Christian, Arch loved America almost as much as he loved his Lord. During World War II, he volunteered for military service. On Valentine's Day 1943, while fighting in North Africa under General George Patton, he was captured by the Germans under the command of General Rommel, the Desert Fox. When the POW camp was liberated by the Russians some two years and three months later, Arch weighed ninety-eight pounds. He returned to the States and received medical care which restored him to his former good health.

"Maybe that was the key to his cheerful and positive outlook on life: Arch had already lived on the brink of starvation and death in a Nazi POW camp. After the war, he was so happy to be alive he didn't let anything or anyone rob him of his joy. Ever since his release, Arch has had an 'attitude of gratitude' for his life and an appreciation for all of humankind."

The boy who used to make auto parts deliveries now heads up an organization devoted to developing character. If you ask Brian Roquemore why he is committed to encouraging young people to live lives of responsible character, he'll tell you: "Watching Arch live his life, seeing his cheerful disposition even when people swore at him or blamed him for their own mistakes—that was a powerful lesson in what's truly important in life. Most of the things we get upset about in life are really not worth the expenditure of emotion. All that really matters is knowing God, being grateful for each new day, and living out a life of character."

Kevin Mawae is one of the best offensive linemen in pro football today. Playing center for the Tennessee Titans (and previously for the Seahawks and Jets), Kevin has played in six consecutive Pro Bowls and has an impressive "iron man" streak to his credit—177 consecutive games. "Most of what I know about character," Kevin told me, "I learned while growing up in a military family. My dad exemplified character. He demonstrated pride in his job, his uniform, and his family. Later in life, those early lessons in character were reinforced by my faith and spiritual growth through my study of the Bible—God's ultimate guide to good character."

To some people, the center is just the guy who snaps the ball to the quarterback. But the center is actually a leader. He calls out the blocking assignments to the other offensive linemen; he's also responsible for blocking the nose tackles and blitzing defenders. It's a position that requires size, quickness, and toughness—and character qualities, such as courage, determination, and perseverance in the face of adversity. Kevin Mawae has seen plenty of adversity, both on and off the field.

"In May 1996, my brother Scott called me and told me that our older brother, John, had been killed in a car accident. I was in my third year in the NFL at that point, and I wasn't a Christian at the time. John and I were best friends and he was the best man at my wedding. We were close and his death hit me hard. John was baptized shortly before he died, and his death made me think seriously about God. I started reading the Bible, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew.

"Over time, as I searched for answers, I came to faith in Jesus Christ. As my faith has grown, I've seen how important it is to be a person of character. We all have strong areas in our lives, and some weaker ones. My brother's death showed me that life is short, nothing is promised to us, and we need to make every day count for God. That means we have to make the most of our character strengths, and ask God's help in overcoming the weaknesses in our character. In the end, my character is my legacy. It's what I did with my life, how I dealt with people, and the mark I left behind."

From the Meadowlands, where the Jets play their home games, the New York skyline can be seen in the distance over the stadium walls. On September 11, 2001, two skyscrapers were ripped from that skyline, leaving a smoking hole in the lower end of Manhattan. For days afterward, rescuers dug through the rubble of the towers, hoping to find survivors. Kevin Mawae, then a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, declared that he and his teammates would rather forfeit the upcoming home game against the Raiders than play while the smoke of the city still drifted over their stadium. In response, the NFL suspended play for a week.

Because of his reputation for wisdom and character, players often come to Kevin for advice about football—and about life. "My parents molded my character," he told me. "They modeled what character is all about. They taught me about hard work, keeping your word, and treating others right. They taught me that character means doing the right thing, even if it's the hard thing to do. This world can take everything else away from you, but it can't take away your character."

I interviewed Buck O'Neil, another great athlete from a bygone era, a few months before his death in October 2006. Born in 1911, Buck was the great-grandson of an African-born slave. He became an outstanding first baseman in the Negro American League, playing most of his career with the Kansas City Monarchs. Our phone interview was just a few weeks before he played in the last professional baseball game of his career—at age ninety-four! He told me, "Your character is the one thing that you keep with you all your life, and no one can take it away."

Buck O'Neil was raised under segregation in Florida. At the age of twelve, he worked in the fields, picking celery. It was back-breaking, sweaty work, and Buck decided there had to be a better way to make a living. After seeing his first game of semi-pro baseball in West Palm Beach, Buck knew he wanted to be a ballplayer.

Though racial segregation kept him from attending high school and playing in the major leagues, Buck never gave in to bitterness. "My generation did the groundwork for the guys who play the game today," he told me. "I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. Every generation has its part to play. We all have our duty."

That's a word Buck uses a lot when he looks back over his childhood: duty. "My parents and my grandmother made sure I knew my duties at school and at home," he told me. "I had an honest day's work to get done in the school room—then I had to come home and work. When I was eight or nine years old, my job was to bring in the water and fill up the tubs so we could do the wash. That was my duty. I loved to play ball, but I also had my jobs to do, and I felt bad if I failed to hold up my responsibilities in the family. Sometimes, I'd come in after dark and my mother would say, 'You've got to quit the game earlier so you can get the water in here before dark.' I had a duty to perform."

That sense of duty and hard work served Buck O'Neil well as a ballplayer. During two decades in the Negro leagues, Buck compiled a .288 career batting average (during four seasons, he batted over .300, posting a career-best .358 in 1947). After playing in the Negro leagues from the mid-1930s to 1955 (a career interrupted by World War II), Buck became a coach and scout in Major League Baseball.

In 2006, Buck O'Neil was nominated for admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame, though he failed to receive the 75 percent of votes needed for induction. After receiving the bad news, Buck went before a crowd of disappointed fans, saying, "God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful."

A few days later, at age ninety-four, Buck O'Neil became the oldest player in professional baseball. On Tuesday, July 18, 2006, he stepped up to the plate in the Northern League All-Star Game—his first professional at-bat since 1955. Though he was walked twice, he looked fit and muscular in his red and white Monarchs jersey.

Buck told me, "In the Negro Leagues you had to hang in there. There were so many good ballplayers who wanted to take your job away." It took courage to play baseball during times of bigotry and segregation. "Courage is part of living," Buck told me. "There's always going to be obstacles and troubles out there. You've got to have the courage to stay in there."

Faith in God was always an important part of Buck O'Neil's life. "As a kid I'd go to church three times a day on Sundays," he told me. "I was in church all my life. My faith in God is what got me through."

His first role models were his father, his mother, his grandmother, and a grammar school teacher. "When we lived in Sarasota," he said, "I met Mrs. Emma Booker who ran the Booker Grammar School. She preached character to all her students. So I've had outstanding people in my life who taught me right from wrong. Segregation was wrong and it was hard, but my parents and my teachers taught me something important: people might segregate you, but they can't segregate your character. If you have good character, you have something no one can take from you."

Buck O'Neil was concerned about today's kids. "So many children today only have one parent," he told me. "They don't have what I had. Kids today need all the help they can get from good people. Everyone older than me taught me something. They wanted me to be the best I could be. That's what I want for the kids who are growing up today."

Year after year, whenever Buck attended Kansas City Royals games at Kauffman Stadium, he occupied his own seat—section 101, row C, seat 1, directly behind home plate. After his death, the Royals announced the "Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat Program" to honor him. The public is invited to nominate "heroes of character"—people from any walk of life who have demonstrated outstanding character. Every year, the Royals will choose eighty-one heroes, one for each home game on the schedule, to be honored by a place in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat. I know Buck would be pleased.

People Who Stand Firm

In February 2006, my son Bobby and I flew to Houston for the NBA All-Star Weekend. On Thursday the sixteenth, the day before the festivities, Bobby and I went for a jog. Returning to our hotel, we noticed a flurry of activity in front of an office building a block away—reporters, TV cameras, and boom mikes.

We jogged to the corner and saw a man and woman emerge from the jostling mass of reporters and walk to the corner across from us. When the light changed, the couple started across the street—and I recognized the man. "Bobby," I said, "that's Ken Lay!" It was indeed the former CEO of Enron, who was two weeks into a federal trial for securities fraud and related charges. He was walking straight toward us.

I thought, What do you say to a guy who's facing up to twenty-five years in prison? I knew Ken Lay once lived in Winter Park, Florida, where I now live—though he moved to Texas long before I came to Florida. And I knew he talked openly about having trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I wondered how this preacher's son, who claimed to live his life on Christian principles, could have ended up embroiled in the biggest corporate scandal in American history.

As Ken Lay and his wife stepped up on the curb beside us, I put out my hand and said, "Mr. Lay, I'm Pat Williams with the Orlando Magic. I understand you used to live in Winter Park, where I now live."

He took my hand, smiled warmly, and introduced his wife, Linda. We chatted for a few moments about Central Florida before I said, "Ken, I want you to know we're praying for you."

"I appreciate that," he said.

"And I'm standing with him all the way," Linda added.

We said good-bye, and Ken and Linda Lay continued toward the parking garage.

"Dad," Bobby said, "he's really a nice guy."

Yes, he certainly seemed to be. And I couldn't help wondering what went wrong. Did Ken Lay succumb to pressure from stockholders? Was he duped? Did he yield to materialism and the arrogance of power? After all, he was a friend to presidents and one of the highest-paid CEOs in the world. In the fall of 2001, he reaped millions more by selling Enron stock while urging his employees to buy more of the very stock he was unloading. Enron's collapse cost thousands of employees their jobs and life savings. It wiped out a billion dollars in pension funds and at least twenty-five billion dollars in investor holdings. Clearly, someone made some very bad decisions at Enron.


On Sale
Feb 14, 2008
Page Count
288 pages

Pat Williams

About the Author

Pat Williams is one of the most influential executives in NBA history. Currently the Senior VP of the Orlando Magic (and a cofounder of the team), he has also been an executive with the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, and Atlanta Hawks.

An accomplished author, Pat has published fifty-five titles in subjects including sports, business, motivation, and inspiration. He is a prolific motivational speaker who addresses executives ranging from Fortune 500 companies and national associations to universities and nonprofits. He hosts three weekly radio shows broadcast out of Orlando, FL, and has close contacts throughout basketball and national sports media. He lives in Orlando, FL. Please visit him at

Michael Connelly has been a popular sportswriter in the New England area for over a decade, and his Boston Top Ten blog is a favorite of sports fans in the region. He’s published three books including Rebound!: Basketball, Busing, Larry Bird, and The Rebirth of Boston. He lives in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

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