Hall of Fame basketball coach John Thompson Jr. dead at 78

Hall of Fame basketball coach John Thompson Jr. has died at the age of 78.

The Thompson family released the following statement about his death:

We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr. Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on, but most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else. However, for us, his greatest legacy remains as a father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. More than a coach, he was our foundation. More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear everyday. We will miss him but are grounded in the assurance that we carry his faith and determination in us. We will cherish forever his strength, courage, wisdom and boldness, as well as his unfailing love.  We know that he will be deeply missed by many and our family appreciates your condolences and prayers. But don’t worry about him, because as he always liked to say, ‘….”Big Ace'” is cool.”

Thompson will forever be remembered for his association with Georgetown University, and the impact he had on countless young lives, including several players who advanced to careers in the NBA.

At the time of his death, Thompson was still an adviser to the Georgetown athletics program.

“With a heavy heart, Georgetown University Athletics and the entire Georgetown community mourns the passing of legendary coach and Hall of Famer John Thompson Jr., who served as the head coach of the Hoya basketball team from 1972 to 1999,” the department said Monday.

Thompson turned the Hoyas into a national powerhouse, becoming the first Black coach to win an NCAA championship when he guided the team to the 1984 title.

Former Georgetown Hoyas head coach John Thompson Jr.
Former Georgetown Hoyas head coach John Thompson Jr. looks on before a college basketball game between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Butler Bulldogs at the Capital One Arena on Feb. 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Thompson died at age 78. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Thompson retired from coaching in 1999, 13 games into the new season.

After coaching, Thompson moved into a successful career in broadcasting, appearing on national television as an analyst for college basketball games. And for several years, he hosted an afternoon radio show on WTEM in Washington.

During his time as head coach at Georgetown, not only did Thompson win games, but he was also an advocate for his players.

Before Georgetown’s home game against Boston College in 1989, Thompson walked off the Capital Centre court to protest the NCAA’s Proposition 48, which prohibited scholarship athletes from playing their freshman year if they failed to qualify academically.

Perhaps the best known of Thompson’s former players was Hoya and Knick great Patrick Ewing, who now coaches the men’s basketball team. In a statement posted to Twitter, Ewing called Thompson a role model, confidant and father figure.

He has done so much to impact my life and the people he has coached and mentored along the way. However, his reach went well beyond just those who he knew personally. He changed the world and helped shape the way we see it. He was a great coach but an even better person and his legacy is everlasting. My condolences and prayers go out to his family.

Thompson grew up in D.C. and starred at Archbishop Carroll High School before going on to play at Providence College. He was then drafted by the NBA’s Boston Celtics, where he played two seasons and won two titles as the backup center to Hall of Famer Bill Russell.

After his brief playing career ended in 1966, Thompson returned home to D.C. and began his coaching career.

For six years, he coached St. Anthony High School and built a winning program, which compiled a 122-28 record that served as the launching pad for his opportunity at Georgetown.

When Thompson arrived at Georgetown in 1972, the school’s basketball team had just completed a 3-23 season.

Within three seasons, Thompson had the Hoyas in the NCAA tournament. In the 27 years he was in charge of the Hoyas, Thompson put together a record of 596–239, including 20 NCAA Tournament appearances and 20 NIT appearances.

CBS’ James Brown called him “a giant of a man” who wanted to see his kids do better than their parents.

“He produced champions on and off the court,” Brown told WTOP’s Shawn Anderson. “He was a fearless, fierce protector of his athletes, reminding them to be champions in the game, not only of basketball, but more importantly, in the game of life, and he dedicated himself to them.”

Johnny Holliday, the broadcast voice of the Maryland Terrapins, called Thompson a “gentle giant” whose imposing figure belied an accessible, courteous personality.

“He always did things the right way,” Holliday told WTOP’s Mark Lewis. “He always he had closed practices. He made sure that his teams were ready to play. He made sure that these teams did the right thing.

“And for a kid to play for Georgetown and to play for John Thompson, that had to be a real feather in their cap,” Holliday said, “because it’s a tough academic institution, as everybody knows, and he loved to win.”

Thompson also “paved the way” for other Black coaches to get their opportunity, he said.

According to Georgetown, Thompson is survived by his three children and five grandchildren.

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