(Original Caption) New York: Georgetown’s Most Valuable Player, Patrick Ewing, holds his MVP trophy … [+] and victory net as he gives the #1 sign behind coach John Thompson after they Hoyas’ beat St. John’s Redmen 92-80 in the Big East final at Madison Square Garden.
Thompson coached Georgetown for 27 years, leading the program to its only NCAA title in 1984 and becoming the first black head coach to win a major college championship. He was the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 and also won two NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in 1965 and ‘66.
Thompson is the winningest coach in Georgetown history with 596 wins and led the Hoyas to three NCAA Final Fours in 1982, ‘84 and ‘85. Thompson produced four future Naismith Hall of Famers in Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.
At his Hall of Fame induction, Iverson thanked Thompson for saving his life after Iverson’s scholarship offers from other schools dried up because of his involvement in a fight.
Longtime Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who had a fierce rivalry with Thompson on court and later became his close friend, said Monday on ESPN’s “Get Up”:
“There’s only one John Thompson and I’m glad I got the opportunity to compete against him and that I got a chance to know him outside of basketball as well.”
He added: “What John did at Georgetown, no one could ever see coming. He was an imposing figure and he willed his team to play a certain way, and he set an example, a standard, for defensive basketball teams that coaches have tried to replicate ever since he was there.”
Thompson’s death follows the death Aug. 27 of legendary former Arizona coach Lute Olson. Over the weekend, the NBA honored Olson, former UConn star Cliff Robinson and actor Chadwick Boseman before its playoff games, and may opt to do the same for Thompson beginning Monday.
Despite all his on-court achievements, Thompson is perhaps best known for his trailblazing off-the-court work in support of African-American players and coaches long before the current wave of “Black Lives Matter” protests and boycotts occurred.
In 1989, Thompson walked out of a game against Boston College in protest of “Proposition 48,” the NCAA rule he claimed discriminated against poor and black athletes. According to reports at the time, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 15,000 at the arena as he was escorted off the court in Landover, Md. by building security and Prince George’s County police officers.
Per ESPN, 75 of 77 players who remained all four years at Georgetown under Thompson received degrees.
“He did it all before anybody,” Boeheim said. “What the NBA players did was really noteworthy this week, and what other athletes have done this summer, but John did that all by himself virtually. He had some help, John Chaney certainly comes to mind.
“But John just took it upon himself. It was a horrible rule, a racist rule….It was really 90 percent of the people affected were African-American kids and John wasn’t having it. He was not afraid to walk out at a time when that wasn’t something anybody would’ve thought about and to stand up for what was right, for African-American kids. And that’s what he did.
“He was a great basketball coach, we don’t want to sell that short, but he was a leader in the game and in life and in today’s world he would be a huge addition to today’s world. He would set a standard like no one would be able to. There’s no question the impact he had on all coaches, but especially African-American players and coaches, that’s who people looked up to. That’s who people from the cities looked up to. That’s where the Georgetown shirts were, in the inner-cities, and kids wore them all over the place. They wanted to be like Georgetown, they wanted to be tough, they wanted to do it their way. And that’s what John Thompson did, he did it his way. And he showed that it could be done.”
He added: “He was one of a kind. There’s nobody like John Thompson. There really isn’t and I don’t think there ever will be. It’s hard to over-exaggerate. He was a bigger-than-life figure.”
I’m a Basketball and Tennis insider who contributes to The New York Times, NJ Advance Media and newspapers nationwide. I am also the author of two books and an
I’m a Basketball and Tennis insider who contributes to The New York Times, NJ Advance Media and newspapers nationwide. I am also the author of two books and an award-winning filmmaker. My family lives in Manhattan with our dog.
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