NBA Rumor: John Thompson Death

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Etan Thomas: He focused on their education, enforced discipline and structure, and educated them about society and being a Black man in America. He was a father figure in that he actually cared about his players far beyond wins and losses (although he definitely wanted to win). He made sure he stressed that his players graduate and not squander their time allowing the system to use them. Of course that was the coach and program I wanted to be a part of. Also, he coached one of my favorite players, Alonzo Mourning – someone who I wanted to pattern my game after. He also coached Patrick Ewing, one of my favorite players growing up (as a New York Knicks fan). I wanted to be able to block shots like Dikembe Mutombo and have defenses literally draw plans to avoid bringing the ball inside. I wanted to carry on the tradition and wear No. 33 at Georgetown (which is one of the reasons why I wore No. 33 at Syracuse, but I’ll explain that later).

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Casey sent a text message Monday to the Detroit Free Press paying his respects to Thompson. “He was a pioneer for African American Coaches,” Casey wrote. “He was one of the first coaches who fought for social justice. He fought for us as coaches. I remember when I was fighting the NCAA he stood up for me at a National Coaches meeting. Every time I would see him I would thank him! He came to numerous practices when I took my Toronto teams to Georgetown University to practice at his practice facility. He always had colorful advice. He was a man’s man!!! What you saw is what you got! We as African American coaches, all coaches are indebted to ‘Big John!’ RIP.”

Greg Monroe: 2020… man. Idk even know where to begin on this one. We lost another great man today. A great coach but even better humanitarian. I dont know anyone who loved the game of basketball more. And as much as you loved the game you loved people more. You sat in McDonough every time a ball bounced on the court willing to share your knowledge to anyone walking through there, not just hoyas. This one hurts fr. Every conversation was priceless and was always deeper than the surface and that was by design because you knew what we were up against as we were growing into men. I thank you for all of your wisdom and guidance. RIH “Don’t let the sum total of your existence be 8-10 pounds of air” a statement that has always stuck with me and you for sure lived by that. Love you Big John

The phone buzzed on Monday morning, followed by a most uncomfortable hush. No hello. No words. Only moments of silence turning into a muffled heave, and finally, a brokenhearted sob. “You had to come from Maryland and D.C. and Prince George’s County to know what Coach Thompson meant to us,” Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams finally said on the phone Monday. “I played in his gym one summer, and he cussed me out because I wasn’t doing something right, and man, it was an honor. Patrick [Ewing] and Alonzo [Mourning] were there playing pickup, and I felt for a moment like I was part of their family, because Coach didn’t talk to everyone like that. “… He looked like my granddad, and every time I saw him …”

For a moment today, everyone should also reflect on the role Ewing played in Thompson’s life and legacy. His decision to attend Georgetown in 1981 changed everything. Ewing delivered Thompson the platform to reach the masses in a way that inspired and challenged and forced all kinds of people to consider — and reconsider — how inequality was rooted in the fabric of the American experiment. Now, Ewing is Georgetown’s coach, a most worthy of heirs to a seat Thompson made one of the most influential in sports. “I wouldn’t be here without John Thompson,” Williams, a Notre Dame graduate, said on Monday morning. “He was a hero for us. We had our parents, and we had Len Bias, and Len died. And then we had John Thompson.

“He put his arms around me, and he knew how I grew up, that I was a kid from his area, and had gotten into coaching, and he told me stuff that I knew he wasn’t telling everybody,” Williams said. “It was like talking to some figure from the Bible who I wanted to meet. Around there, a lot of people called him Big John, but I could never bring myself to do that. I always called him Coach Thompson. “I just knew that I didn’t have his kind of backbone, and I wish I did. He was like Moses to me.”

“You had to come from Maryland and D.C. and Prince George’s County to know what Coach Thompson meant to us,” Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams finally said on the phone Monday. “I played in his gym one summer, and he cussed me out because I wasn’t doing something right, and man, it was an honor. Patrick [Ewing] and Alonzo [Mourning] were there playing pickup, and I felt for a moment like I was part of their family, because Coach didn’t talk to everyone like that. … He looked like my granddad, and every time I saw him …” The words dissolved into tears. Finally, Williams found five that explained why Thompson meant so much to him — meant so much to so many — and always will. “He stood up for us.”

“I wouldn’t be here without John Thompson,” Williams, a Notre Dame graduate, said on Monday morning. “He was a hero for us. We had our parents, and we had Len Bias, and Len died. And then we had John Thompson. “He was the first, along with Coach [John] Chaney, who stood up and said, ‘That’s wrong.’ They were offended when people tried to put them into a different class, and it gave me confidence to not put up with stuff that I knew was wrong. He taught Black kids to believe that they were valuable, and the athletes among us then knew that he was talking about us too.”

Several years ago, Williams had completed a nine-year NBA playing career, delivered New Orleans to the playoffs as a head coach, and found himself at Georgetown on a scouting assignment for the San Antonio Spurs. The old coach was long retired, but still sat on the court in a chair and watched his son, John Thompson III, conduct Hoyas practices. “He put his arms around me, and he knew how I grew up, that I was a kid from his area, and had gotten into coaching, and he told me stuff that I knew he wasn’t telling everybody,” Williams said. “It was like talking to some figure from the Bible who I wanted to meet. Around there, a lot of people called him Big John, but I could never bring myself to do that. I always called him Coach Thompson. I just knew that I didn’t have his kind of backbone, and I wish I did. He was like Moses to me.”


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December 1, 2020 | 3:39 pm EST Update