My four years at Stanford were not what you’d call stable. My major changed three times. I had a new set of classes every 10 weeks. I moved residences and changed roommates year after year. Heck, on my watch, we welcomed a new president, two provosts and two deans of admission.
But throughout this upheaval, there was one unwavering constant in my life. However flimsy the fabric of the Farm felt, I could always snuggle in the warm blanket of Mike Montgomery.
Just as I could peek out my window and see that Hoover Tower was, indeed, still standing, I knew that Monty would always be there. Sure, the NBA occasionally tried to woo him, but college ball was in his blood. He’d be at Stanford long after I’d come and gone. I was sure of it.
You see, Monty and I were (cross your fingers real tight) like this. As a Sixth Man Club fanatic from 1997 to 2001, I sat—or rather, stood—directly across from him at every home game. While the players on the court that separated us came and went, the man on the sideline was always the same. I loved Stanford basketball, and Monty was Stanford basketball. So, by some dubious math law I can’t remember, I loved Monty.
From early November to late March, I always knew where to find him. He’d be pacing in front of the Stanford bench, arms folded, looking dismayed as his Cardinal, ahead by a dozen points, executed a sloppy back screen. He’d sit frowning, looking exasperated, only to explode out of his chair and smack the “Ticket 1050” ad to seize his team’s attention—and scare the daylights out of radio announcer Bob Murphy, ’53. He’d be exchanging pleasantries with the referees, everything from “C’mon Stan, my guy’s getting mauled,” to phrases that had the student section blushing—and giggling with approval.
During my undergrad years, Stanford won 114 games under Coach Montgomery, losing only 19. Of the 56 home games he coached during that span, we won 48. It’s hard to think of anything more consistent. If Monty made movies, he’d be Spielberg.
Watching him work was pure joy. For my (parents’) dollar, there wasn’t a better example of fundamental basketball around. So I went wherever he went: the big games and the small ones, the sellouts against ’Zona and the early-season mismatches against UC-Riverside. One time I followed him to Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, cheering like mad for a whole five minutes—until security guards escorted me out for wearing my Sixth Man shirt in the Cal student section. I always drove to Oakland for the Pete Newell Challenge, but the one time I couldn’t, I spent my 21st birthday cheering Montgomery on from a sports bar in Vegas. We beat Duke that time, on a Casey Jacobsen jumper. I couldn’t have wished for a better gift.
I helped Monty celebrate his birthday, too. On February 27, 1999, a few buddies and I pooled some cash to buy a cake for his 52nd birthday. During warm-ups before that afternoon’s game against Arizona, we presented him with the cake—it read “Happy Birthday, Monty/Love, the Sixth Man Club”—as the student section serenaded him. Montgomery promptly guided the team to a 98-83 victory, clinching Stanford’s first Pac-10 championship. I heard he shared the cake with his players after the game, which turned out to be our only win at home against the Wildcats during my undergrad days.
Sure, Montgomery wasn’t perfect. Perhaps he could have made wiser use of time-outs. Maybe he could have better prepared the team to face Gonzaga and North Carolina in the tournament. He certainly could have brought doughnuts and pizza to more of our Maples sleep-outs. But I’m not one to nag.
I am one, however, to mourn.
On a surreal evening in May, my warm blanket of seven years was yanked away. The six phone calls I received in a 15-minute span—“Did you hear about Monty?”—confirmed the incredible. And with a Sixth Man-style whoosh, the man who built Stanford basketball was gone.
They say you grow fearful of change as you age. Well, Monty’s 57 and I’m less than half that, yet he seems to be much better at this whole “embracing change” business. The key is to take it one step at a time, I guess.
Step No. 1: how do I get Warriors tickets?