John Thompson, simply known as Big John, passed away last weekend. Thompson, the face of Georgetown Hoyas basketball for 27 seasons, passed away at 78 years old.
Thompson compiled a coaching record of 596-239, but more importantly 97% of his players stayed all four years and left with a college degree. He was the first Black head coach to win the NCAA national championship when his Hoyas defeated the University of Houston Cougars in the 1984 NCAA title game.
A Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and three-time Big East Coach of the Year. During his tenure at Georgetown, he coached several NBA first-round picks including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Martin, Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson. Thompson retired from coaching in 1999.
One of his sons, John Thompson III eventually took over the helm of the Hoyas program. Now, his former player Patrick Ewing, is the man in charge.
Thompson went to Providence College, where he played on the 1963 NIT Championship team. He was part of the first Providence NCAA tournament team in 1964. That year he was named All-American.
Thompson was drafted in the third round of the 1964 draft. He played two years in the NBA for the Boston Celtics during which time they won two titles. He then went into coaching, starting at St. Anthony High School in Washington, D.C. From 1966 to 1972, his team racked up a 122–28 record. Then he was hired as the head coach of Georgetown’s men’s basketball team, where he spent the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.
One of the most celebrated figures in his sport, Thompson took over the lowly Georgetown program. He molded it into a perennial contender, culminating with a national championship team, anchored by Ewing in 1984. Georgetown reached two more title games with Thompson in charge and Ewing patrolling the paint. They lost to Michael Jordan’s North Carolina team in 1982 and to Villanova in 1985.
At 6-foot-10, with an ever-present white towel slung over his shoulder, Thompson literally and figuratively towered over the Hoyas for decades. He won seven Coach of the Year awards. And became the teams patriarch after he quit coaching in 1999.
Notable Stories About Thompson
On a 1989 episode of ABC’s “Nightline,” Thompson said he had confronted notorious drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III after learning the local cocaine ringleader had befriended some of the Georgetown players, including Alonzo Mourning and John Turner.
Edmond, was a known figure in the city who attended many Georgetown games and frequented a popular nightclub where he met some of the players. Later that year, he was arrested for his role in a drug trafficking operation and was eventually sentenced to life in prison. Turner was dismissed from the team and he too was later arrested on drug charges, which were ultimately dropped.
On another occasion, Thompson stood by Iverson, who spent four months in jail for his alleged role in a high school brawl at a bowling alley. Thompson was criticized for his allegiance to Iverson, whose sentence was ultimately overturned by an appeals court.
The talented guard went on to win Big East Rookie of the Year honors while leading the program to an Elite Eight during his second and final season at the school. Iverson thanked Thompson for “saving my life” in an Instagram post Monday, adding that he hopes that he always made his college coach proud.
Thompson wasn’t just a basketball coach. He stood for education, he stood for equal rights and he was a father figure for so many young athletes who needed it. Like all great coaches, Thompson didn’t just develop great players, he developed great young men who carry on his legacy forever.