NBA Hall of Famer Pat Williams on His Surprising Role Model; His Career On and Off the Court

"Think beyond your lifetime, if you want to do something truly great. Make a fifty-year master plan. A fifty-year master plan will change how you look at the opportunities in the present."

This is but one of the Walt Disney-isms featured in Pat Williams' book, How To Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life.

The NBA Hall of Famer's personal fascination with Disney began when he relocated to Orlando, Florida in 1989 to build a new NBA basketball team. Williams named his team the Magic in honor of one of Disney's most famous creations, the Magic Kingdom. He chose the name not only because of the team's proximity to Disney World, but also as a tribute to how Walt Disney's "magical personality" touched his community.

In this interview, Williams shares why he considers Walt Disney to be one of his mentors and how readers can be more like the cartoon mogul.

Q: Walt Disney is one of the most enduring icons of the 20th century and there are already a number of books about him. What in particular made you want to undertake a project this big-to write about the life and lessons of Walt Disney?

Williams: Walt has always been an inspiration to me, but after I arrived in Orlando back in 1989, I was amazed at the obvious influence this man had on an entire community-and one he'd never even lived in! What kind of personality today has that much power? Just the thought of it made me want to know more about Walt. What was he like as a man? How was he regarded by those who knew him and worked for him? What was his imprint on people's hearts that make them love him still? Those were the questions I wanted answered.

Q: What did you expect to learn as you started this project in 2001?

Williams: I expected to discover memories and stories about a man who lived 40 years ago. I knew there was much to learn from his leadership style and his drive to succeed. What surprised me was the living presence I saw in so many lives-both those who knew him and those who just loved him from a distance. To these people, Walt is still alive! And as I dug deeper into his leadership techniques, developed on his own long before we had books written by leadership gurus like John Maxwell and Ken Blanchard, I was blown away that Walt was already doing all that leadership stuff. This man was decades ahead of his time! We still have a long way to go in order to catch up to him. We need his skills today. This world needs more leaders who care like Walt, who love like Walt, who dream like Walt and inspire like Walt. My book shows you how you can be like Walt, no matter who you are or what your leadership influence is.

Q: How did you conduct your research?

Williams: Thanks to my years in Orlando, I've come to know a few people here at Walt Disney World who actually knew and worked with Walt. So that's where I started. One person would lead me to another and another and the list just grew. Everywhere I looked, every event I traveled to, I discovered another link. And of course there are the other books on Disney. I used virtually every book of record, along with the videos and DVDs that include interviews with people who knew Walt. I was fortunate to meet some folks who work for Disney or who had worked for Disney and who loved Walt enough to want to help me with this project.

On the same day, when I traveled to Anaheim for a book conference, I met two people who "plussed" this book immeasurably – Tim O'Day and Peggy Matthews Rose. Walt, who invented the term "plussing" for making something the best it could be and then making it just a little better, would be proud. Without the help of people like these two Walt historians, this book wouldn't be half what it is. Thanks to all of them and my writing partner Jim Denney, we've put together a book we believe will touch the hearts and inspire the imaginations of everyone who reads it.

I spent three years researching this book. I consulted over a thousand sources and conducted over 200 interviews. I talked to most of the people now living who knew Walt Disney, from members of the Disney family to actors, animators, and Disney songwriters. In the process of researching and writing this book, I've come to feel as if I've known Walt all my life.

To read the full interview, click here.