John Thompson Jr., legendary Georgetown basketball coach, has passed away at the age of 78. Thompson, the first Black basketball head coach to win the NCAA National Championship, died at home Sunday night. The cause of death is unknown.
A family source said that Thompson had been suffering from various health issues. Family and friends were by Thompson’s side as he passed.
The Thompson family released a statement through the Georgetown basketball’s Twitter account on Monday morning.
The Early Days of John Thompson Jr.
Thompson was born and raised in Washington, D.C., before playing basketball and attending Providence College in Rhode Island. He led Providence to the 1963 NIT championship and captained Providence’s first NCAA tournament team in 1964.
Providence College posted condolences to Thompson and his family on Twitter as news broke of his passing.
After college, the Boston Celtics drafted the 6-foot-10 Thompson in 1964. Thompson won two NBA championships with the Celtics during his short two-year professional career before moving on to coaching. The Chicago Bulls wanted to sign Thompson, but he instead chose to work with kids and coach the game he loved.
Thompson first took a head coaching job at St. Anthony Catholic School in 1966. During his six-year grade school coaching career, Thompson led the basketball team to a 122-28 record. Georgetown took notice of the young coach, and hired Thompson to take over the men’s basketball program in 1972.
John Thompson Jr.’s Legendary Georgetown Career
“Big John,” as he was known to many, inherited a Georgetown basketball team that recorded a 3-23 season the year before his hire. Thompson would go on to turn things around, and could always be seen on the sidelines with his signature white towel draped over his shoulder. He put Georgetown on the map by winning close to 600 games, and a National Championship in 1984.
Thompson earned the national coach of the year award three times, and also the Big East coach of the year three times. The legendary coach led the Hoyas to three Final Fours in the 1980s, 24 straight postseason appearances, and seven Big East titles. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined Thompson as a member in 1999.
Thompson coached at Georgetown University for 27 years, where he became a legend on and off the court. He was an outspoken leader in his community, and advocate for African American youth. Thompson later touched on being the first African American head coach to win the National Championship.
“I was very proud of winning the national championship and I was very proud of the fact that I was a Black American, but I didn’t like it if the statement implied that I was the first Black person who had intelligence enough to win the national championship,” Thompson shared with ESPN. “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.”
Former Players Pay Their Respects
Thompson touched countless lives over his decades of coaching, and was a father figure to many of his Georgetown players. Thompson coached four future Naismith Hall of Famers, including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Iverson and Mutombo took to Instagram to share condolences.