“You need to know from Maryland and DC and Prince George’s County what Coach Thompson means to us,” Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams finally said on the phone on Monday. “I played at their gym one summer, and they kicked me out because I wasn’t doing something right, and man, it was an honor Patrick. [Ewing] And alonzo [Mourning] There were pickets playing, and I felt for a moment that I was part of his family, because the coach didn’t talk to everyone like that.
“… He looked like my grandfather, and every time I saw him …”
The words dissolved in tears. In the end, Williams discovered that the five explained why Thompson meant so much to him – so much to so many – and always will.
“He stood up for us.”
John Thompson, a Hall of Fame coach, a cultural icon, an irreplaceable force, died Sunday at the age of 78. He made Georgetown basketball an event, and he remained until his retirement in 1996. Although Thompson had many opportunities, he never became an NBA coach – he influenced the league beyond Ewing and Schoch and Alan Iverson. His influence continued to resonate in recent days and weeks and months, with the NBA raising its voice in opposition to inequality. Players went out in 2020, the way Thompson went out one night in 1989.
The movement has scores of basketball ancestors, but none larger than John Thompson. Few black coaches, such as Thompson, were exposed – not because they did not exist, but because they did not get opportunities to coach at the highest levels of the game.
Thompson was the former DC High School coach at a small Catholic college with regional aspirations – and turned Georgetown into a national champion and a cultural touchstone.
For a moment today, everyone should also pay attention to the Ewing role played in Thompson’s life and legacy. His decision to move to Georgetown in 1981 changed everything. Ewing gave Thompson the platform to reach the masses in a way that inspired and challenged all kinds of people and forced them to think – and how inequality was rooted in American rethinking.
Now, Ewing is Georgetown’s coach, a seat Thompson’s most deserving successor made most influential in the game.
“I wouldn’t be here without John Thompson,” Williams, a graduate of Notre Dame, said Monday morning. “He was a hero to us. We had parents, and we had Lane Beas, and Lane died. And then we had John Thompson.
“He was the first with the coach [John] Channi, who stood up and said, ‘This is wrong.’ They were angry when people tried to put them in a different category, and it convinced me not to put up with stuff that I knew was wrong.
“He taught the Black Kids to believe they were valuable, and the athletes among us knew he was talking about us as well.”
Williams watched the Georgetown play on black-and-white television in his childhood home – not far from the Capitol Center in PG County, where the Hoys ran roughshod over the Big East. Williams would have chosen Georgetown, if only Thompson had not chosen one of his high school rivals.
“I wanted to go there so badly,” Williams said. “And it set me on fire.”
Several years ago, Williams completed a nine-year NBA playing career, led New Orleans to the playoffs as head coach and found himself at Georgetown in a scouting assignment for the San Antonio Spurs. The old coach was long retired, but still sat in the courtroom in a chair and watched his son, John Thompson III, conduct hooras practices.
“He put his arms around me, and he knew how I grew up, that I was a kid from his field, and went to coaching, and he told me that I knew he wouldn’t tell everyone. Had been, “Williams said.
“It was like talking to some biblical figure I wanted to meet. Around there, a lot of people called him Big John, but I could never get myself to do it. I always called him Coach Thompson .
“I just knew that I didn’t have a spine like him, and I wish I did. He was like Moses to me.”
And now, Monty Williams was crying again. Perhaps John Thompson was never his coach, but that’s not at all how they see it. In the 80s Monty Williams was a child out of metropolitan DC, another child was out of America, whom the sheer force and willpower and talent of Big John changed forever. In retrospect, Thompson should have offered Monty Williams a scholarship for a child, which eventually transferred to James Madison, but perhaps that rejection accepted Williams in a way that approval could never be granted.
Whatever the reason, Monty Williams, raised on Hoya Paranoia in the shadow of the Cap Center, ran the NBA team in the same way Thompson programmed the college: Tough Love, Higher Standards. And it made Williams cry on Monday morning until he repeated again, “I’ll never call him Coach Thompson.”