The basketball community as a whole is mourning the passing of John Thompson Jr., not just locally but nationally as well. That includes in Boston, where the legendary Hoyas head coach won two NBA championships as a player with the Celtics.
Red Auerbach selected Thompson, who stood 6-foot-10, in the 3rd round of the 1964 NBA draft. He did not play much behind Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, but he was on two championship teams in 1965 and 1966 before eventually turning to coaching instead. Today, current members of the Celtics reflected on what Thompson meant to the game.
“First of all his impact is enormous on basketball, on sports, on community,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said on Monday. “Georgetown was such a giant, and their coach was so impactful and had such a presence. And then when you learn about all the great things he did off the court, what he meant to the players that played there, what he meant to the school.”
In recent years, Boston has practiced on Georgetown’s campus when in town to play the Wizards, and Stevens couldn’t help but notice Thompson’s presence in the building.
“To see him up there a couple times when we were practicing the last few years, seeing him kind of sitting on that perch, walking over and nudging somebody like, ‘hey that’s Big John!’” Stevens said. “He’s a big, big icon in basketball.”
The impact Thompson had on the game is not limited to his coaching peers either. Celtics point guard Kemba Walker recognizes what the late Hoyas coach did for young Black men hoping to make a living off the game of basketball.
“John Thompson, he’s a guy you have to appreciate, especially for me and other young, black, African American guys,” Walker said. “He’s one of the guys who paved the way for so many of us.”
With 596 career victories, a national title and two more Final Four appearances, Thompson’s resume speaks for itself. But when players and coaches unaffiliated with the school or the area speak so highly of him, it shows that “Big John’s” impact on the sport cannot be disputed.