John Thompson (basketball)

John Thompson (basketball)

John Thompson, Jr. (born September 2 1941) is an American former basketball coach for the Georgetown University Hoyas. He is now a professional radio and TV sports commentator. In 1984, he became the first African American head coach to win the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship when Georgetown defeated the University of Houston 84-75.

Playing career

Thompson was born in Washington, D.C. After attending Archbishop John Carroll High School in Washington, Thompson went to Providence College. At Providence, Thompson was a part of the 1963 NIT Championship team, and was part of the first Providence NCAA tournament team in 1964. He was an All-American in his senior year of 1964. He is currently eleventh on the all-time scoring list at PC, fourth in scoring average, sixth in field goal percentage, and third in rebounds.

He graduated as the school leader in points, scoring average, and field goal percentage, and second in rebounds. He played two years in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Boston Celtics in 1964-1966. At 6'10" (2.08 m), 270 lbs (122.7 kg) he backed up Bill Russell, the Celtics' star center, en route to two championships. Nicknamed "The Caddy" for his secondary role to Russell, his career as a player was unimpressive, however, and he retired in 1966 to coach at St. Anthony High School in DC. After racking up an impressive 122-28 record as a high school coach, Thompson was hired to become the head coach of the men's basketball team at Georgetown University. Before retiring from playing basketball in 1966, Thompson had been selected by the Chicago Bulls in that year's expansion draft.

Coaching career


Thompson, an imposing figure on the sidelines who towered over many opposing coaches (and players, for that matter), was often noted for the trademark white towel that he carried on his shoulder during the games, a color from which his critics took symbolic meaning. Inheriting a Georgetown team which had been just 3-23 the year before, Thompson quickly and dramatically improved the team, making the NCAA tournament within three seasons. Over the following 27 years, Thompson's Hoyas went an impressive 596-239 (.714), running off a streak of 24 postseason appearances - 20 in the NCAA tournament, four in the NIT - including a 14-year streak of NCAA appearances from 1979-1992 that saw three Final Four appearances in 1982, 1984 and 1985, winning a National Championship in 1984 and narrowly missing a repeat the next year by losing to underdog Villanova.

Thompson still holds conference records for most overall Big East wins (231), most regular-season Big East wins (198) and conference championships (seven regular season, six tournaments). He won seven Coach of the Year awards: Big East (1980, 1987, 1992), United States Basketball Writers Association and The Sporting News (1984), National Association of Basketball Coaches (1985) and United Press International (1987). Thompson coached many notable players, including Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Under Thompson, 26 players were chosen in the NBA Draft, eight in the first round including two players selected first overall, Ewing by the New York Knicks in 1985 and Iverson by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996.

Hoya Paranoia and the glory years

During the Hoya's glory years the term "Hoya Paranoia" became indelibly linked to Thompson and Georgetown basketball program. The term was originally coined by Mark Asher of "The Washington Post" and used to describe Hoya fans’ insecurity toward pro-Maryland media bias, but it soon came to refer to the team’s unusual forced seclusion from the media and Thompson's suffocating control over his program. Unlike most programs of the day, Thompson's practices were closed to the media and the players were placed off-limits to the members of the press. Backers of Thompson would defend Thompson's actions as his way of protecting his program and its players from detrimental media coverage and attention. In very real ethnocentric terms Georgetown in the 1980s was viewed as a team of Twelve Angry Men—or, to be very specific, "Twelve Angry Black Men." They had a cadre of intimidating players, who happened to be African American, their reputations enhanced by the stifling press defense and aggressive offense which Thompson employed and encouraged.

Of course, much of it was fictionalized and borne out of racial stereotypes of the time. For example, it was oft-reported Thompson made the Hoyas stay more than an hour away from Seattle in Canada when they won the national title in 1984. In reality, they stayed across the street from the airport, less than a half-hour out of town. There were other embellishments that lent credence to Thompson's us-against-our-detractors world.

Thompson was a master tactician, employing a psychological chip on the shoulder of his teams by creating an "us against them" mentality among his players. Whether he specifically used race as the binding force in this belief is debatable although what certainly is not is the media's perception and perpetuation of the belief that he did.


John Thompson's career as head coach of Georgetown was full of controversy. Perhaps one of the most controversial incidents was the hanging of a sign in the McDonough Gym. In 1975, after another perceived mediocre year, a sign was hung at the top of the rafters reading "Thompson the (n-word) flop must go." [cite web|title=Signs of Change|url=] The University quickly took down the sign and silenced talks for his termination.

Taking on the Most Powerful Drug Lord in D.C.

In the late 1980s, Thompson got word that several of his players, including Alonzo Mourning, were associating with noted DC drug lord (and avid Hoya fan) Rayful Edmond III. [ [ ESPN - ESPN The Magazine ] ] At the height of his empire, Edmond became very friendly with several Hoya players. When Thompson received word of what was happening, he sent word through his sources to have Edmond meet him at his office at McDonough Gymnasium. When Edmond arrived, Thompson was initially cordial, and informed Edmond that he needed to cease all contacts with his players post haste, specifically John Turner and Mourning, both of whom had befriended Edmond [ [ Michael Wilbon - A Coach, Not a Crusader - ] ] . When Edmond tried to tell him that his players were not involved in anything illegal, the 6'10" Thompson stood up and put his finger in Edmond's face. A profanity-laced tirade ensued, in which Thompson told Edmond he didn't give an (expletive) who Edmond was on the street or his crew's violent reputation; he had crossed the line with his players, and that he wasn't going to let Edmond (expletive) up their lives. If Edmond had any sense of intelligence, the coach continued, he'd be wise not to (expletive) with Thompson. Thompson's parting words to Edmond before dismissing him was that he was not going to repeat himself: Stay the (expletive) away from his players, or Edmond would suffer serious consequences [ [ 'Big John Is Still Big John' - ] ] . By all accounts, Edmond never associated with another Hoya player on a personal level. It is believed that Thompson is the only person to stand up to Edmond without consequence, initially causing some shock and surprise that there was no reprisal against Thompson for standing up to Edmond. [ [ Movies - American Gangster: Season Two - Disc 3 Review ] ] . While he felt embarrassed and humiliated by the encounter, Edmond could not bring himself to seek any retaliation whatsoever. Thompson was a black man Edmond truly admired and revered, and he respected the honor, presence, and leadership role that Thompson commanded in the black community.

1988 Olympic Team

Thompson, who had served as an assistant coach for the gold medal winning team in the 1976 Summer Olympics, coached the United States team at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Although favored to win the international tournament, the United States was narrowly defeated by the Soviet Union in the semi-finals 82-76, marking the first time the United States did not reach the gold medal game. The team proceeded to win its final game against Australia to secure the bronze medal.

News of the humiliating loss sent shockwaves across the country and following the conclusion of the 1988 Olympics, Thompson came under heavy criticism for the players he selected for the team and the coaching style he employed. In particular, his critics pointed to the absence of notable players such as 1989 Naismith College Player of the Year Danny Ferry, and the inclusion of Mourning (then just a high school player) as one of the 17 Olympic team finalists, as examples of Thompson's professional incompetence during the selection process. Critics would additionally cite the Ferry/Mourning case as further proof of Thompson's blatant racism, although it must be noted that Ferry injured his knee during a pre-draft workout with the Washington Bullets prior to the final cut. Thompson proponents often point to Bobby Knight's handling of the 1984 Olympic Team (in which future Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton were cut, and Knight's star white guard Steve Alford was kept), as examples of the double standard to which black coaches are often held.

A commonly held misconception is that it was the failure of the 1988 team to win gold which led to the inclusion of NBA players onto future Olympic teams. When the U.S. team with college players lost in 1988, the only professional players who could not participate in international competition were NBA players. To FIBA Secretary-General Borislav Stanković, the head of the organization that governs international basketball, that did not seem fair. So he decided a change was needed and he led the movement to change the rules. At the time, the NBA was not even a part of the organization that came to be known as USA Basketball, the governing body for basketball in the U.S. When the vote to change the rules was taken, in fact, the U.S. representatives voted against it. They were content for the U.S. to be represented by amateurs.

Once the rules were changed, however, the NBA was invited to become a part of USA Basketball, and it was determined that NBA players would play in the Olympics and World Championships with college and other young players continuing to represent the U.S. in all other international competition. What is even less known, however, is that in 1986 — two years before Americans lost in '88 — the rules were nearly changed. Stankovic introduced the resolution for open play at a FIBA convention, and the vote to allow all professionals to play was 31-27. At the time, Stanković said 18 or 19 countries abstained from voting, but if only five had changed and voted "yes," the resolution would have passed and the original Dream Team could have debuted in 1988 rather than 1992. Ultimately, Stanković's push for the globalization of the game by showcasing its greatest players would have a dramatic effect on the popularity of the sport.


On January 8 1999, Thompson shocked the sports world by announcing his resignation as Georgetown's head coach, citing marriage problems. The legendary coach was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on October 1 1999. Thompson was replaced by longtime assistant Craig Esherick, a popular player's coach.

Esherick was fired in 2004 and replaced by John Thompson III, the old coach's eldest son. At the time the elder Thompson was serving Georgetown in what Rev. Leo J. O'Donovan, university president, referred to as a "coach emeritus" position, assisting on academic, athletic and community projects.

His younger son, Ronny Thompson, formerly an assistant coach at Georgetown, has recently resigned amid controversy as the head coach at Ball State University.


After retiring from coaching, Thompson continued to be active in basketball as a commentator for both professional (mainly for TNT) and collegiate games. He also hosts "The John Thompson Show", a sports talk show on SportsTalk 980 (WTEM-AM) in Washington, D.C. Thompson is perhaps best known for preluding interviews with the statement, "let me ask you a question..." Thompson signed a lifetime contract with Clear Channel Radio and SportsTalk 980 in Feb. 2006. He continues to spend a lot of time around the Georgetown basketball program, including traveling to road games and participating in press conferences. He works with the former Washington Redskins kick returner Brian Mitchell and his producer Chuck Sapienza.


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