Prayers up. The basketball world has lost a giant.
Famous for guiding the Georgetown University men’s basketball team to greatness, Thompson was also a professional basketball player himself who developed a number of stars who would go on to excel in the NBA.
WJLA, a local news outlet in Washington, D.C. — where Thompson was born, raised and resided up until dying — attributed the news of Thompson’s death to his “friends and family.”
Darren Rovell, ESPN’s basketball insider, also reported Thompson’s death.
No cause of death was immediately reported.
Thompson, who also coached the U.S. Olympics men’s basketball team to a bronze medal, retired in 1999.
One of the things he has always been celebrated for was his impact on the Black men he coached.
When standout player Allen Iverson, who starred for Georgetown in the mid-19909s, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he got emotional while thanking Thompson.
“I want to thank Coach Thompson, for saving my life,” Iverson said while holding back tears at the induction ceremony in 2016. “For giving me the opportunity.” Thompson famously recruited Iverson amid controversy involving Iverson’s alleged involvement in a fight that broke out at a Virginia bowling alley in 1993 resulting in the player’s incarceration.
Born Sept. 2, 1941, Thompson was a high school basketball star in Washington, D.C., before he stood out at Providence College and went on to play a few seasons with the Boston Celtics in the NBA. But it was coaching that he was best at. After returning to D.C. to coach high school basketball, Georgetown University hired him in 1972 to guide its men’s team — something that he did, and then some.
Thompson recruited and coached some of the most recognizable names in basketball history, including Patrick Ewing, who helped secure Georgetown’s one and only NCAA championship in 1985.
Thompson once provided his personal perspective about being the first Black coach to win an NCAA championship.
“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,” he told ESPN. “So, I felt obligated to define that, and I got a little criticism for saying it…”
Aside from Ewing and Iverson, other notable names who Thompson coached include Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Sleepy Floyd. At least 26 players who Thompson coached were drafted into the NBA.
In 27 years of being a head coach at Georgetown, Thompson was named Big East coach of the year seven times, appeared in three Final Fours and made 20 NCAA Tournaments, 14 appearances of which were consecutive. However, the Hall of Fame basketball coach never took his players’ focus off of the great equalizer of education, ending his career with a 97 percent graduation rate that included 76 of 78 students who played four years, a rarity even at the time.
Thompson is survived by his two sons: John Thompson III, who was also Georgetown University’s men’s head basketball coach, and Ronny Thompson, also a former college basketball coach.