Former Georgetown men’s basketball coach John Thompson, Jr. died at the age of 78 early on August 31. He is remembered for his advocacy for his players and for Black athletes, as well as building Georgetown basketball into a national championship caliber program that won the title in 1984.
The 1984 title was the first for the Hoyas and Thompson was the first Black head coach of a NCAA championship team. On the national stage, Thompson advocated for recognition of discrimination in sports saying: “I might have been the first Black person who was provided with an opportunity to compete for this prize, that you have discriminated against thousands of my ancestors to deny them this opportunity.”
In 1989, in response to the NCAA’s Proposition 42, Thompson famously walked off the court before a game in protest of the measure he believed targeted opportunities for minority students. Thompson was not afraid to tackle challenges off the court, including confronting notorious D.C. cocaine trafficker Rayful Edmond III, warning him to stay away from his players.
He coached future basketball Hall of Fame members such as Dikembe Mutombo (class of ’91), current Georgetown head basketball coach Patrick Ewing (class of ’85), Alonzo Mourning (class of ’92) and Allen Iverson.
“Georgetown University, the sport of basketball and the world has lost someone who I consider to be a father figure, confidant and role model,” Ewing said. “He has done so much to impact my life and the people he has coached and mentored along the way. However, his reach went well beyond just those who he knew personally, he changed the world and helped shape the way we see it.
“He was a great coach but an even better person and his legacy is everlasting. My condolences and prayers go out to his family.”
A D.C. native, Thompson played at Providence College before a two-year career with the Celtics. In 1972, he was hired as the Hoyas head coach, a position he would hold for 27 years. Over the course of his coaching career, Thompson held a record of 596–239, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame less than a year after his retirement from coaching.
Thompson also had success on a global scale as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, which won a bronze medal in 1988, and was part of two gold-medal efforts, first in 1976 as an assistant coach and again in 1984 as a member of the selection committee for the team.