Thompson opened the door for minority coaches and leaves behind a legacy of inspiring young people.
John Thompson, Jr., the legendary Georgetown University basketball coach, died August 31, 2020.
His family, through Georgetown, released a statement saying, “We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr,. Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on, but most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else.”
He was born on September 2, 1941 and before coaching had quite the basketball resume. He led Providence College to its second NIT championship in 1963. In 1964 he was drafted in the third round of the NBA draft to the Boston Celtics where he won two championships (65’, 66’) and played with Bill Russell. Coach of the Celtics, Red Auerbach was a heavy influence on him and the style in which he would eventually coach. After Auerbach’s death, Thompson said, “I’ve never been around a man who managed men in my life any better than Red Auerbach. Particularly, the egos he had to deal with, the cross cultures he had to deal with, and all the variations in the kinds of people that I saw him be associated with.”
Thompson’s NBA career was short lived as it lasted two seasons. He passed up the opportunity to play with the Chicago Bulls to work with youth instead. His first head coaching job was in 1966 at St. Anthony Catholic School. During his tenure, his record was impressively 122-28. He then was hired by Georgetown University in 1972 and by 1975 led his team to its first NCAA tournament in 32 years.
The Hall of Fame coach was known as “Big John” in the collegiate basketball world. He made history as the first black head coach to lead his team to an NCAA national basketball championship in 1984. Thompson led the Georgetown Hoyas to seven Big East titles and took the team to the Final Four three times. He coached the 1988 US Olympic team to a bronze medal.
Thompson was inducted into the 1999 Hall of Fame and his legendary career opened the door for minority coaches for generations to come.
In addition to his tradition of winning, he had a knack for recruiting Hall of Fame players. He developed Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, and Allen Iverson.
When news of his passing broke, Iverson posted a heartfelt message on social media saying, “Thanks For Saving My Life Coach. I’m going to miss you, but I’m sure that you are looking down on us with a big smile. I would give anything just for one more phone call from you only to hear you say, ‘Hey MF’, then we would talk about everything except basketball. May you always Rest in Paradise, where there is no pain or suffering. I will always see your face in my mind, hoping that I made you proud. ‘Your Prodigal Son’ #Hoya4Life”
This message was shared under a photo of Iverson and Thompson embracing at Iverson’s Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Speech and it echoed his sentiments that he was fortunate enough to say directly to him. In that memorable speech, Iverson said through tears, “I want to thank Coach Thompson…for saving my life. For giving me the opportunity. I was recruited by every school in the country for football and basketball. And an incident happened in high school and all that was taken away. No other teams, no other schools were recruiting me anymore. My mom went to Georgetown and begged him to give me a chance. And he did.”
Thompson’s family statement continued to say, “However, for us, his greatest legacy remains as a father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. More than a coach, he was our foundation. More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear everyday. We will miss him but are grounded in the assurance that we carry his faith and determination in us. We will cherish forever his strength, courage, wisdom and boldness, as well as his unfailing love.
“We know that he will be deeply missed by many and our family appreciates your condolences and prayers. But don’t worry about him, because as he always liked to say, ‘Big Ace is cool.’”