Legendary former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson died overnight at age 78, according to multiple reports.
The first Black coach to lead his team to the NCAA men’s basketball championship, Thompson coached Georgetown from 1972-99, compiling a 596-239 record. He was a pivotal figure in the formation and rise of the original Big East Conference.
“He was a giant. What he did coaching speaks for itself,” former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese told Yahoo Sports. “As we’ve sat here and watched what’s going on with the NBA and social justice, John did it 30 years ago. But he did it by himself.”
Thompson turned Georgetown into a national power by bringing Patrick Ewing to campus in 1981. He recruited and coached four Hall of Famers: Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson.
Thompson and Ewing combined to lead Georgetown to three Final Fours, winning at the expense of Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston in 1984 but losing to Michael Jordan and North Carolina in 1982. Villanova’s victory in 1985 still is considered one of the greatest upsets of all-time.
The 6-foot-10 Thompson was a three-time Big East Coach of the Year and two-time National Coach of the Year.
But, height aside, he also was a towering figure with a fiery temper for the way he advocated for his players.
In 1989, Thompson walked off the home court and turned over in-game coaching duties to an assistant in protest of Proposition 48, which prohibited scholarship athletes from playing as freshmen if they failed to qualify academically. He spoke his mind that standardized testing was a form of racism against underprivileged youth.
That same year, Thompson said he sent out word to the streets that he wanted to talk with noted violent drug lord Rayful Edmond III about steering clear of his program and any players that came into his nightclub. Edmond later received a life sentence on 43 counts of drug-related offenses.
Thompson’s son, Princeton graduate John III, later coached Georgetown from 2004-17 and was succeeded in the position by Ewing.