We lost another larger than life figure.
Georgetown’s legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach John Thompson passed away at the age of 78, his family confirmed. No cause of death was revealed. Before his passing, Thompson resigned from Nike’s Board of Directors, a position he has held since 1991.
Before making his name on the sidelines as the coach for the Hoyas, Thompson put his 6’10 frame to use in the NBA. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1964. Thompson would win two NBA championships with the team during his two-year stint with the iconic organization. Before taking the coaching gig that he became well-known for, he was hired by St. Anthony High School in Washington, D.C., from 1966-1972, where the team dominated thanks to his guidance.
He would eventually move onto Georgetown University at the age of 31, his hiring would go on to set the standard for the school’s men’s basketball program for years to come. When he arrived, the Hoyas were a mediocre basketball program, eventually becoming one of the NCAA’s juggernauts after joining the Big East in 1979. Thanks to Thompson’s recruiting of Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, and Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown would be known as a launching pad for NBA big men as well as becoming a constant fixture deep into the NCAA tournament.
With Ewing anchoring the offense and defense, Thompson’s Hoyas would finally strike gold and win the program’s first and only NCAA championship. Thompson would become the first Black coach to win a national title. He also led the program to two other championship games in 1982 and 1985.
Thompson, who was well-known for his fiery brand of coaching on the court, was also a larger than life figure to his players off the court as well. During his Hall of Fame speech, Allen Iverson detailed how instrumental Thompson was in changing his life by giving him a chance many other schools didn’t want to because of Iverson serving some time in prison following an incident at a bowling alley.
Iverson was sentenced to 15-years in jail but only served four months after he was granted clemency, the conviction was later overturned.
“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 was also known to be very protective when it comes to his players as well. When notorious drug kingpin Rayful Edmond befriended his players, including Alonzo Mourning, Thompson met with Edmond telling him not to mess with his players. It is believed that following that meeting, Edmond heeded that warning and never interacted with any of those players ever again.
John Thompson’s storied career with the Georgetown Hoyas came to an end midway through the 1998-99 season. He would walk away from the sidelines with an impressive 596–239 record. Nine months after his decision to retire, he was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Rest in power John Thompson.
Photo: Collegiate Images / Getty