Hall of Fame Basketball Coach John Thompson was remembered Saturday by his family, friends, former players and coaches in a virtual tribute presented by Georgetown University.
He coached at the D.C. school for 27 seasons and brought the basketball team into the national spotlight by recruiting stars like Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson.
John Thompson died Aug. 30 at 78.
“To know him was to respect him,” said former President Barack Obama, who led those offering tributes. “What made Coach Thompson special, what compelled us to celebrate his life today is what he did to build young men — to turn them into men of character and purpose.”
The Georgetown University Gospel Choir sang a hymn on the Facebook event hosted by Rick “Doc” Walker, a member of the 1982 champion Washington Football Team and Thompson’s radio colleague on a show he hosted after he retired from coaching.
The event included snapshots of current Georgetown University students and student-athletes holding signs expressing thanks to the coach and sympathy over his passing.
“Coach Thompson was like my second dad. He was a person that, when I first met him, just by the way that he carried himself as a Black man, a proud Black man, and as a young boy that I could want to emulate and try to be like,” said Ewing, a member of Georgetown’s 1984 championship team and the university’s current coach. The 1984 basketball national title was the first earned by a Black coach.
More than one speaker saluted Thompson for his 97% player graduation rate and for keeping a deflated basketball on his desk as a reminder to players that basketball would not last forever.
“John was a teacher, a mentor, an extraordinary leader,” said Georgetown University President John DeGioia. “He demanded the best of us and brought out the best in us. He held us true to our values.”
Born in D.C., Thompson led his high school team — Archbishop Carroll — to championships and earned a scholarship to Providence College. For two years, he was the back-up center behind Bill Russell on the Boston Celtics, helping the team to two NBA titles. He began coaching at Georgetown in 1972. Thompson’s son, also named John, was the Hoyas’ coach for over a decade, preceding Ewing in the role.
“Your love is stuck in my throat without words to translate emotion and a thousand poems have not been able to encapsulate your memory for me,” said Tiffany Thompson, mourning the passing of her father.