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HONOR: NABC Coaches Wear John Thompson Commemorative Towels

Today’s coaches recognize the late coach as historic and iconic

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Georgetown Hoyas Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

John Thompson, Jr., the late, legendary coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, is being honored this week by college basketball coaches across the nation. Coaches will be wearing commemorative towels to celebrate his life as a part of Black History Month.

Thompson again revealed in his autobiography, I Came As A Shadow, that his wearing the towel over his shoulder was a way to feel his parents’ presence at games, as his mother used to wear a towel when working in the kitchen.

This week, coaches such as FSU’s Leonard Hamilton, Purdue’s Matt Painter, and Dayton’s Anthony Grant were some of the earliest coaches identified wearing the commemorative towel over their shoulders.

This humble lunch blog contributor is proudly wearing his towel at home.

NABC Press Release:

Basketball Coaches to Honor John Thompson with Towel Initiative

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Coaches across men’s college basketball will pay tribute to John Thompson Jr. this week by wearing commemorative towels over their shoulders during games – mirroring the late coach’s signature sideline look.

The NABC launched the initiative – intentionally targeted to take place during Black History Month - to honor Thompson for his lasting impact both on and off the court. Towels featuring an image of Thompson were distributed to every NABC-member head men’s basketball coach in NCAA Divisions I, II and III and the NAIA. Additionally, every program in HBCU conferences currently competing in the 2020-21 season was outfitted with sets of towels.

“John Thompson was an icon in our profession, and we wanted to make sure his legacy was celebrated in a prominent way this season,” said NABC Executive Director Craig Robinson. “Big John not only achieved the highest levels of coaching success during his career, but he also paved the way for more equitable opportunities for countless Black student-athletes and coaches – me included.”

“Our goal is that this collective effort by coaches will bring about important dialogue and help educate those watching on what Big John meant to our game and our society,” Robinson added.

The towel initiative originated from the NABC Committee on Racial Reconciliation. In addition to sending the towels, the NABC also provided basketball programs with an educational resource detailing Thompson’s social justice advocacy.

Georgetown’s John Thompson: Coach was a civil rights giant to team, nation, world | USATODAY

“What he did was give that team some self-esteem,” says Barbara Gallagher, a nun at St. Anthony’s during Thompson’s tenure there. “He instilled a spirit of knowing they could do things. He insisted that when they come to the ballgame, they have a suit and tie on and they change in the locker room so that they could be gentlemen.

“Some of the boys had bad grades, so he asked one of the sisters if she would tutor them on the side, which she did do. ... He just gave these kids a sense of pride and self-esteem, and they did so well for themselves in winning games.”

Basketball coaches to wear commemorative towels honoring Georgetown coach John Thompson | WJLA

Remembering Big John. This week, coaches across men’s college basketball will pay tribute to former Georgetown head coach John Thompson Jr. They will be wearing commemorative towels over their shoulders during games, mirroring Thompson’s signature sideline look. The National Association of Basketball Coaches launched the initiative to honor Thompson’s lasting impact both on and off the court.

High Point’s Tubby Smith reflects on his basketball coaching career and his mentors, Big House Gaines, John Thompson and John Chaney | JOURNALNOW

“Coach Thompson and I spent a lot of time together and I’m kind of glad I never coached against him because he had some really good teams,” Smith said. Smith said he got plenty of advice from Thompson through the years.

“Coach Thompson also said if you take over a job, be careful, and don’t try and win them all at one time,” Smith said, alluding to his stop at Kentucky. What Smith loved about Thompson was he wasn’t afraid to fight for the Black athlete. “Coach Thompson was another man who was a proud, Black coach who spoke his mind,” Smith said. “He was the first one, really, who had a national voice and he didn’t mess around.”