While we are all still mourning the loss of John Thompson, Jr., here are some segments from terrific articles about the larger-than-life man that Coach Thompson is and will always be.
Here are the links:
The former head basketball coach established The John Thompson Charitable Foundation in 2000 to help improve the quality of life for underserved children within the District of Columbia and other communities. The foundation awards grants to organizations that enhance children’s lives, provide for continuing education, or support rehabilitation. Thompson was a consultant, spokesman and board member to Nike, along with serving as coach emeritus and presidential consultant for urban affairs at Georgetown. The University awarded him for his lasting commitment to the Hilltop community with its two highest honors: the President’s Award and the Patrick Healy Award.
You’re going to hear a lot about Big John over the course of the next week. We’re talking about the man that built Georgetown basketball into a powerhouse, that helped build the Big East. We’re talking about the man that coached Patrick Ewing, and Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, and Allen Iverson. We’re talking about the man that had the white school in the whitest part of ‘Chocolate City’ wearing Kente cloth. We’re talking about the Black coach that recruited Black players and had convinced the nation at-large that Georgetown University was a Black school.
There are going to be stories told about the time that he announced that Syracuse’s old gym, Manley Fieldhouse, is closed, or about the time he wore a sweater to mock Lou Carnesecca, or the time that Iverson said that Big John saved his life.
He stalked the sidelines, prodded his players and cussed at officials, putting that towel to good use. He sweated the small stuff, and sweated the big stuff, always seeking something better. If not perfection, at least improvement. He crafted a team in his own image. Georgetown teams did not back down, earning a reputation for their toughness as much as their talent. The Hoyas defended hard, elbows out and jaws jutted, a villain easily cast. That they frequently won only aided their image and made them easier to hate. From Thompson’s third season, in 1974-75, all the way through the end of his career in 1999, Georgetown never had a losing season, and in the ’80s the Hoyas dominated the sport, rolling to three Elite Eights, two national title game appearances and one title in nine years.
“People on the outside thought he was abrasive, but... sometimes we’d be in the locker room getting ready, he’d come in and start dancing with us. He was lighthearted. He worked extremely hard.”— New Day (@NewDay) September 1, 2020
NBA’s Patrick Ewing remembers legendary college basketball coach John Thompson pic.twitter.com/M2ywjVtxOf
“I was supposed to be grateful because I one was one of the first African Americans coaching,” he told the Post in 2007. “I was supposed to sit there and say, ‘Oh, thank you Mr. White Man for giving me a job.’ God made me human and equal. Now I’m supposed to be grateful because you’re treating me equal and treating me as a human being? No.” In this era of protests for social justice, Thompson was well ahead of his time, too.
In 1989 he walked off the floor before a home game to protest an NCAA rule that was called Proposition 48, prohibiting scholarship athletes from playing as freshmen if they failed to qualify through standardized test scores.
The sports world and well beyond is remembering legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson who was the first Black coach to guide his team to a national championship in basketball. @annenbcnews has more on his influential life. pic.twitter.com/zH0AmW8kQ5— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 1, 2020
Thompson’s ascendance helped change some of the hiring practices in college basketball. John Chaney was hired at Temple in 1982, George Raveling at Iowa in 1983, Nolan Richardson at Arkansas in 1985. The game’s great disconnect—Black stars on the court, white men coaching them—began to fade away.
The transformational moment for Thompson was when he signed Ewing, beating out North Carolina and UCLA for the star from Boston. Ewing’s official visit to Chapel Hill coincided with a Ku Klux Klan rally near campus, according to the Washington Post, and coach Dean Smith—himself a fearless social activist—told Ewing that he would understand if he chose a different school. Smith’s recommendation was Georgetown and his good friend, Thompson.
“The main reason I chose Georgetown was coach Thompson,” Ewing told the Post. “I thought that being a young Black kid who in just listening to a Black man who back then, spoke the way that he spoke, the way that he carried himself, it was someone I could emulate.”
A Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and three-time Big East Coach of the Year, Thompson retired from coaching in 1999. During his tenure at Georgetown, he coached several NBA first-round picks including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Martin, Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson…
“I’ll probably be remembered for all the things that kept me out of the Hall of Fame, ironically, more than for the things that got me into it,” Thompson said on the day he was elected to the Hall in 1999.
Thompson became coach of the Hoyas in 1972 and began remaking a team that was 3-23 the previous season. Over the next 27 years, he led Georgetown to 14 straight NCAA tournaments (1979-92), 24 consecutive postseason appearances (20 NCAA, 4 NIT), three Final Fours (1982, 1984, 1985) and won six Big East tournament championships.
It was John Thompson who met with the notorious and feared drug kingpin of D.C., Rayful Edmond III, to tell him to leave his players own.
It was John Thompson who pulled his team off the floor in protest in 1983 during a game at Providence, when a fan held up a sign that read, “Ewing can’t read”.
John Thompson Jr. and his 6’10” towering frame left an indelible mark on the game of basketball, and society as a whole. In a time in our country rife with racial injustice and unrest, Thompson’s achievements in fighting for racial equality for young Black men throughout the country are made even more notable in the context of our country’s current battle today for greater racial equality for people of all colors and backgrounds.
John Thompson Jr. was more than just the head coach of @GeorgetownHoops.— Hoyas247 (@Hoyas247) August 31, 2020
He was an icon who used his platform to speak out against the racial injustices that America is still grappling with today.
His impact goes far beyond the game of basketball. https://t.co/NpFDNAUGka pic.twitter.com/UHjz2ziqoS
“When I was hired,” Thompson told Sports Illustrated in 1980, “I had a talk with the president [then the Rev. Robert Henle, S.J.]. All that Father Henle said about basketball was that he hoped I could take a team to the NIT every now and then. I thought to myself that I’d eat my hat if I couldn’t do better than that. But I didn’t say anything except, ‘Yes, sir, I’ll try,’ because you don’t want to set yourself up.”
Thompson exceeded those expectations. By 1975, he had led the Hoyas to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 32 years.
“I resent the hell out of that question,” he said, his bass-baritone voice raised to an angry pitch. “It implies that I’m the first Black coach capable of making the Final Four. That’s not close to true. I’m just the first one who was given the opportunity to get here” …
“Look at me, I’m a Black coach,” he said. “I’m a 6-foot-10-inch Black man with a loud voice and, fact is, that scares a lot of White people. Most of the best players — not all but most — are Black. I walk into a Black home to recruit a kid, I have an advantage right away. I walk into a White home, if I’m lucky, I’m not at a disadvantage. A lot of the time I am. So why wouldn’t I focus my time and effort on recruiting Black kids who are more likely to want to play for me?”
There’s absolutely no doubt about it that the Black coaches who are coaching today, we all stand on John Thompson’s shoulders,” Hamilton said. “There’s no question that he set the table. He opened up the eyes of America to show people that not only can we play, but we can also lead from an administrative, coaching standpoint.”
Outside of the Big East coaching ranks, Thompson had a long-standing kinship with Dean Smith, the legendary former coach at North Carolina who died in 2015. Thompson arrived roughly two hours before the funeral and sat alone in a church pew, a visual current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams recalls vividly.
Thompson shattered preconceived notions. He went about his business his way. He put Georgetown on the map, and won his national championship while fielding an all-Black roster. While maintaining his goal of providing opportunities to Black youths that others counted out, he continued his long run of legendary success. He developed and shaped iconic college and NBA players. He gave the Big East prominence. He gave Black people hope and inspiration.
“Representation,” my boyhood friend Elijah Griffin Sr. said decisively when I asked him what Thompson meant to him. “He was the first coach that I could identify with. He was hope for every kid growing up in the inner city. He was our hero and wasn’t afraid to be big, bold and Black. He made people love seeing Black players in the Georgetown uniform.”
Sametta Wallace Jackson taught sixth grade at Harrison Elementary School in Washington. In the fall of 1952, she had a new student named John, a respectful 10-year-old who was already in the vicinity of 6 feet tall. John had been kicked out of a Catholic school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, because the nuns there said he was “retarded.” After a week or two at Harrison Elementary, Jackson saved John’s life with a simple observation: “You’re not stupid,” the teacher said. “You just can’t read.” … She is why he rope-a-doped a national media that largely demonized him and his team as stupid thugs.
In addition to winning the 1984 championship, Thompson led the Hoyas to three Final Fours and twenty NCAA tournament appearances, while compiling a 596-239 record during his 27-year tenure. His teams were defined by relentless defense and imposing centers such as Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, and Alonzo Mourning. John Thompson’s legacy will be not what he did on the basketball court, but what he did off of it. Thompson saw that there was more to life than just basketball. He kept a deflated basketball in his office to remind his players that they should have a plan for the future beyond basketball once the ball stopped bouncing. As he often said, “Don’t let eight pounds of air be the sum total of your existence.”
John Thompson Jr.’s legacy extends far beyond just sports. Following the news of Thompson’s passing, prominent figures from the college basketball world and beyond took to social media to honor the Hall of Fame coach.https://t.co/OKcMLmmeJr— Thompson’s Towel (@ThompsonsTowel) September 1, 2020
Williams watched Georgetown games on the black-and-white television in his childhood home — not far from the Capital Centre in PG County where the Hoyas ran roughshod over the Big East. Williams would’ve picked Georgetown, if only Thompson hadn’t picked one of his high school rivals over him. “I wanted to go there so badly,” Williams said. “And that lit a fire in me.” Several years ago, Williams had completed a nine-year NBA playing career, delivered New Orleans to the playoffs as a head coach, and found himself at Georgetown on a scouting assignment for the San Antonio Spurs. The old coach was long retired, but still sat on the court in a chair and watched his son, John Thompson III, conduct Hoyas practices.
See, I know how John Thompson came to be a villain, and came to not care. I know it was another Father, a Catholic priest, who told the young black Catholic boy (whose family had to wait to take communion until the good “heroic” people were done), that he might grow up to be a murderer one day. I knew he had ducked his head in shame when the priest said that. I knew he had trouble reading. I knew his father couldn’t get the white dust from the marble out of his hands, he worked so long and hard at the stone cutting business. I knew his mother had died too young, from overwork and not enough preventative health care. I know that John Thompson was a teacher of defense first, last and always, because he had heard time and time and time again back them, how black players were too lazy to play defense. Thompson told me these things himself, in time, once he learned that I didn’t care if he was a villain or not.
John Thompson was not an overnight success. His growth, and that of the University, was a confluence of hard work and a commitment to be the best it could be, when few saw the opportunity. His 27 years as head coach reshaped the role of basketball at Georgetown University and elevated him to a place of honor and respect in fields far removed from the basketball court.