Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some sad news to report.
John Thompson Jr., died Aug. 30 at 78.
The Washington native elevated Georgetown University basketball to national prominence, earned Hall of Fame honors and carved a place in history as the first African American coach to lead his team to the NCAA championship.
His family announced the death in a statement but did not provide additional details.
Physically imposing at 6 feet 10 and nearly 300 pounds and possessed of a booming bass voice that commanded authority better than a shrill whistle could, Mr. Thompson built his teams around similarly intimidating centers such as Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning and a physical, unrelenting approach to defense.
To Mr. Thompson, a basketball scholarship was a vehicle rather than a destination.
For a young man like him, reared in racially segregated Southeast Washington and labeled academically challenged because of undiagnosed vision problems, basketball was a door that led to opportunity.
After a standout career as a center at Archbishop Carroll High, he went on to graduate from Providence College in Rhode Island with a degree in economics. Later, after a two year career in the National Basketball Association, he earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling at the University of the District of Columbia.
Basketball as opportunity was a cause Mr. Thompson championed throughout his career. When the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1989 adopted a proposition that would deny financial aid to recruits who failed to meet minimum scores on standardized college admission tests, Mr. Thompson skipped two of his own team’s games in protest.
For the sport itself, Mr. Thompson likened it to a fantasy, using the metaphor of a deflated basketball to drive home to his players what their life would ultimately consist of if they didn’t plan for a future beyond the game.
“Don’t let eight pounds of air be the sum total of your existence” was Mr. Thompson’s frequent refrain, and the cautionary words were displayed in the lobby of Georgetown’s McDonough Arena, where Hoyas teams continued to practice well after he stepped down from coaching in 1999.
Though he reached the pinnacle of his profession in leading Georgetown to the 1984 NCAA championship with an 84-75 victory over Houston, Mr. Thompson bristled at being referred to as the first Black coach to do so not because he minimized the achievement, but because he felt that claiming the label slighted generations of African American coaches who could have accomplished the same had they only been given the chance.
His most profound contribution to the game was his grasp of its power to lift disadvantaged youngsters to a better life. He used college basketball and his stature in the sport as a platform from which to demand greater opportunities for Black athletes to gain the college education they might otherwise have been denied.