by Chris Camello (@Chris_Camello)
FLORIDA — The sports world lost a very influential icon this past week with the death of longtime Georgetown men’s basketball coach John Thompson Jr. who passed away at the age of 78.
The Hall of Fame coach spent 27 years with the Hoyas putting them on the college basketball map which included a national championship in 1984, becoming the first African American coach to win one.
Thompson wasn’t just known for coaching college (and future NBA) greats like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Allen Iverson. He wasn’t just known for the white towel over his shoulder or the gold-rimmed glasses.
He left a lasting impact on his players’ lives and the game of basketball that could be felt by people beyond the college or pro game.
L.A. Sparks head coach Derek Fisher recently spoke about the impact Thompson had on him early in his life.
“I think in some form or fashion everybody felt that Coach Thompson was their coach at some point even though they never played for him, even if you didn’t know him personally,” Fisher said.
“I saw myself playing college basketball one day. At the ages of 10,11,12 years old, in the early 80’s, when the Hoyas were playing in Finals Fours and winning championships, John Thompson was arguably for me the first leadership figure that was black,” Fisher continued.
Fisher went on to talk about how watching Thompson made it possible for young African American men to become coaches.
“Watching and observing John Thompson from a distance, I had no idea I’d be coaching at 10-years-old,” Fisher said. “I think for all of us that are coaching now, especially black men, John Thompson is on top of the list of influential people in this world. He’s just a great example for how impactful a coach can be in their players’ lives. I think that’s something that’s reinforced more as we lost him.”
Sparks’ star Candace Parker understood the impact Thompson had on the game and compared him to a coach she knew very well.
“I just love the fact that John Thompson stood for so much,” Parker said. “He reminds me in a way, and I don’t say this lightly, of Pat Summit. It was more than just basketball that he was coaching his men for.”
“I know (Dwyane) Wade told me a story about how if it weren’t for John Thompson standing up, a lot of these guys that didn’t initially get into college, couldn’t have gone,” Parker continued. “It’s him standing up for players in life. He took guys and made them men and taught them about life. This Earth was better because he was on it, and definitely there are a lot of players that are going to keep his legacy alive.”
Parker was referencing Thompson opposing Proposition 48 which prohibited scholarship athletes from playing in their freshman years if they didn’t meet the minimum academic requirements.
His impact is felt beyond college hoops or the NBA making a profound influence on young men’s lives and setting them on a course for success. Thompson was truly unique and will be missed dearly.
*John Thompson was laid to rest on Tuesday September 8.