John Thompson Jr. built a legendary career as a college basketball coach, leading Georgetown to seven Big East titles, three Final Four appearances and the 1984 national championship. But even after he retired from coaching, he didn't fade away. He hosted a popular local radio show chock full of big-name guests always willing to talk to a man many considered an icon.
Thompson spent 13 years as a sports radio show host on ESPN 980 in Washington and built a reputation for bringing high-profile guests on to the show. Following Georgetown’s announcement Monday that Thompson died at 78 years old, former co-host Al Koken joined NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards Talk podcast to talk about what it was like to share the microphone with “Big John.”
“I can’t tell you how many times that you would be just mind-boggled by the guest list that we could have on a local radio show,” Koken said. "I guarantee you we were the only show that had, at one time or the other, Tiger Woods, Earl Woods and Tida Woods, the mother. In fact, there’s not another local radio show, let alone a national radio show, that would ever have that threesome. But John Thompson did.”
The guests ranged from Woods and a high school-aged LeBron James to the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby. As Koken remembers, one time he even had to hang up on one legend in order to talk to another.
“One day we had the then-defending AFC Defensive Player of the Year, former Maryland Terrapin Shawne Merriman on,” Koken said. “Shawne was on promoting a charity event that he had, a great guest. Anybody, any radio host would’ve loved to have Shawne Merriman on and about six minutes into the interview, our producer Chuck says in my ear, ‘We gotta let him go.’ And I look back at the control room with that quizzical look like, ‘Why?’ He says, ‘Kobe’s on the phone.’
“Last time John had seen Kobe in Los Angeles, he made Kobe promise that when you come in to play the Wizards, you gotta come on the radio show and there was Kobe delivering his promise to Big John.”
Thompson retired from radio in February 2012. On his final show before stepping down, he reportedly told listeners, “Really, I don’t care how people remember me…before, it was just a snippet of me that [D.C. fans] were exposed to. I’ve exposed more of myself. I can’t control how people interpret that, but I was just trying to be me. I love the people in this town. They have more than a soundbite, now. How they interpret that is up to them.”