When you think of old Big East basketball, two names come to mind very quickly; Jim Boeheim and John Thompson. Boeheim is still coaching at Syracuse, entering their 7th season in the ACC. John Thompson, the legendary Georgetown coach, recently passed away just a couple days ago. These two coaches had some very memorable games during the 1980s at the height of Big East basketball.
John Thompson’s Legacy
Thompson’s impact goes far beyond what he did on the sideline. However, his accomplishments on the court are right up there with the best of the best. He was not only a good coach, but he was a good person. He believed college basketball was a path to a better life for the players that came through Georgetown. As part of his employment, he demanded that he would be able to recruit players who would normally not meet Georgetown’s admission standards. He took action steps to ensure that these players would not only succeed on the basketball court but in the classroom as well. He negotiated the hire of an academic coordinator for the basketball team. As a result, 77/79 players that stayed for four years earned their degrees.
Just as NBA players boycotted games to protest inequality, Thompson did the same back in 1989. In 1989, the NCAA proposed that financial aid be withheld from collegiate athletes who did not earn certain scores on standardized tests. Thompson decided to protest that proposition by having his team sit out 2 games.
Thompson was also the first Black coach to win the National Championship. Liz Clarke of the Washington Post wrote “Thompson bristled at being referred to the first Black coach to do so – 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” (Clarke 2020).
Thompson was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1999 after he abruptly resigned from Georgetown. He never coached in the NBA, but he certainly sent a lot of players to the league. Most notable, he coach Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Allen Iverson. All three of those players went on to have pretty good NBA careers.
As a Syracuse fan, it is hard to say something nice about Georgetown. My dad was a student at Syracuse back in the early 80s and he saw some great matchups between the two teams, including Thompson declaring “Manley Fieldhouse is officially closed.” It is still a sore topic on Syracuse’s campus. Thompson made a lasting impact on countless lives. He stood for far more than just building a winning basketball team. He fought for racial equality and social justice both in life and on the basketball court. Thompson stands way taller than his 6’10”, 300 pound frame and his impact on the lives of many will be honored or generations.
-Pete Chatterton (@Pchat12)