The sports world continues to mourn the loss of John Thompson, a pioneer in both college basketball and the Civil Rights movement, who died yesterday at the age of 78. Thompson was a giant of a man, both figuratively and literally – he stood 6-10 and weighed 270 lbs. as a player – who was known for standing up for his beliefs and giving troubled young players a second chance in life. Here are 10 facts about the great John Thompson:
♦ Thompson was born on Sept. 2, 1941 in Washington, DC. He would later attend Archbishop Carroll High School, which also produced Duke All-American basketball player Johnny Dawkins and Republican Party chairman Michael Steele.
♦ He played center at Providence College, leading the Friars to the 1963 NIT championship and, the following season, the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. By the time he graduated, Thompson was Providence’s all-time leader in points, scoring average and field goal percentage.
♦ Thompson was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1964. Serving as the backup to NBA great Bill Russell, Zheng played two seasons for the Celtics and won two league titles. In his 74 games as a Celtic, he averaged 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.
♦ In 1966, Thompson accepted a part-time job to coach the boys basketball team at Saint Anthony in DC. He quickly turned the program into a national powerhouse, posting a 122-28 record in his six-year tenure. Losing was a rare instance, and Thompson didn’t always handle it well. In a 1970 upset loss to Wilbur Cross H.S., he was so infuriated with the officiating that he pulled his team off the floor with three minutes left in the game. Before that, Thompson pulled out his wallet and threw it on the court, saying, “Will this help? Will we have a better shot if you take my money?”
♦ On March 13, 1972, Thompson was named the new head coach at Georgetown University. He made his Hoya coaching debut on Nov. 27 of that year, and it was a successful one: Georgetown 61, St. Francis (PA) 60. However, the Hoyas finished 12-14 that season.
♦ In his 27 seasons at Georgetown, Thompson won 596 games and lost 239 for a career winning percentage of .714. He led the Hoyas to 24 consecutive postseason appearances, including three Final Four appearances. Of course, he brought the school the 1985 national championship, becoming the first African-American head coach to win a national title in basketball.
♦ From 1982 through 1992, Thompson and the Hoyas made annual trips to Hawaii to play early-season games against BYU-Hawaii, Hawaii Hilo, Hawaii Loa and HPU. In all, the Hoyas played 19 games against these teams, going (unsurprisingly) 19-0.
♦ At Georgetown, Thompson recruited and coached future NBA stars such as Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.
♦ On Sept. 11, 2001, Thompson was supposed to be on American Airlines’ Flight 77 to make an in-studio appearance on “The Jim Rome Show.” A last-minute change of plans forced Thompson to book a different flight, however. Flight 77, of course, was hijacked by terrorists that morning and wound up crashing into the Pentagon.
♦ Thompson has been inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
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