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John Thompson. The Players Coach

His ’84 NCAA championship run was historical in more ways than one. It was the first by a black head coach. We stand corrected. B.I.G. John kicked in that door.

john thomson and patrick ewing 1984 ncaa basketball champions
john thomson and patrick ewing 1984 ncaa basketball champions

How many more people do we have to say goodbye to this year?

A day after the announcement of Cliff Robinson passing away, we now say rest peacefully to John Thompson.

Behind every great player is a coach, and behind Allen Iverson — before Larry Brown, before the cornrows and tattoos, before the step-over, before the NBA, was dear John.

The Georgetown Hoyas’ hallmark front-court boasted Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo among their Hall of Fame alumni. Imagine putting out this Big Three on court at the same time.

Still, no Hoya was bigger than the Bulldogs’ own Mr. Thompson.

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Ewing and Mourning went on to battle in the painted trenches as part of the heated Miami and Knicks rivalry in the 1990s, a golden era for seven-footers.

Iverson teamed up with fellow alumnus Mount Mutombo as they tried to match the greatest one-two punch ever — the Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

All men went on from college to have more good times in the big leagues than those portraits in the yearbook under the title, “Most Likely To Succeed.” Even if they all remained as ringless as “Championship Chuck,” aside from Mourning, who overcame it all like a new day.

Still, they’d be nothing without a coach as legendary as his glasses … and what a spectacle.

Put it in a frame above the Hall of Fame, because this trophy cabinet is nothing with the man who used to cut down twine in his prime.

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John Thompson Jr. leaves us at 78 and with a legacy for centuries.

Junior was just that huge on the hardwood.

Seven Big East titles for Big John. Three Final Fours. The 1984 championship. A bronze in the 1988 Olympics. His resume speaks for the record books.

Yet his legacy is more than what is engraved on hardware or etched in history.

“He helped me grow,” current Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing commented for a man who coached his boys in more than just basketball. Taking Iverson under his wing and showing him the right way and not just in how to play. All so he could be Iverson the player and Allen the man. The Answer didn’t just make the right choice between the gridiron or the hardwood.

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“He gave me a chance, saved my life.”

You’ve got to feel for Chuck this year, like Dwayne Wade hugging him.

Our thoughts are with John Thompson’s family, friends and honour roll of players.

He entered the Hall in 1999, but years before he walked down that corridor he opened the doors for many minority coaches. The game literally looks different today because of this man. John made sure minorities mattered.

Thompson first black coach to win NCAA championship

Patrick Ewing and John Thompson hugging Georgetown Hoyas
Patrick Ewing and John Thompson hugging Georgetown Hoyas

His ’84 NCAA championship run was historic in more ways than one. It was the first by a Black head coach. We stand corrected. B.I.G. John kicked in that door.

This year everyone in the NBA and WNBA have taken a knee, protested and boycotted all the racist killings that have taken place because like the hardwood courts say, and the ones of justice should, Black Lives Matter. Back in 1989, Thompson had already been making his stand in statement. Walking off the court against Boston College to protest Proposition 48, something that would ban ineligible academics from receiving scholarships.

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Thompson, in an NCAA that still makes money off boys, but refuses to even break them off a bit of bread, was always about his players.

“I’ve done this because, out of frustration, you’re limited in your options of what you can do in response to something I felt was very wrong,” he said.

Oh, how those words could have been said yesterday and ring so true now.

John Thompson Jr. was a pioneer. A before-his-time original. He led Providence as a player to a divine title in 1963. A captain then. Always a leader. Even when he backed up Bill Russell for the ultimate one in him and the cigar smoke of Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics in, of course, the championship years of ’65 and ’66.

Always a winner.

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After his green day and with the Red influence, Thompson headed for the coaching ranks after two years in the NBA, where he led the Hoyas to their first NCAA tournament run in 32 years.

The rest, they say, is history. His hardwood history.

Thank you, Coach.


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