The basketball community and the world as a whole lost a legend Monday in the passing of John Thompson Jr. The legendary Georgetown basketball coach, who became the first Black coach in NCAA history to win a national title in 1984, was 78 years old.
Following the news of his death, sports figures across the country, including former Hoya Allen Iverson, shared their memories of the Hall-of-Fame coach. Former Maryland coach Gary Williams, who competed against the Hoyas directly in the Big East as Boston College's head coach from 1982-1986, is well aware of what Thompson could do on the court. But Williams also spoke eloquently about his impact off of it.
"On a larger scale, outside of basketball, John was significant in that he was a spokesman for the times," Williams said. "People like Muhammed Ali, you have Jim Brown, Bill Russell. All of those people were not afraid to say significant things and they were all after equality. They wanted fairness and equal opportunity and that's what John Thompson stood for, for the people of D.C. and the people of the United States."
Williams first met Thompson in 1978 while coaching American University in Washington. Georgetown was "nice enough to play us," as Williams put it, in each of his four years there. Once he got to Boston College in 1982, he gained a true understanding of Thompson's contributions for not just Georgetown basketball, but the coaching landscape as a whole.
"The Big East had already taken off and certainly Georgetown, John Thompson, Patrick Ewing, had a lot to do with it," Williams said. "It was great competition in those days with all the players and coaches in the Big East, but John was unique.
"He was a great competitor No. 1, but he wanted things to be fair for everyone and he went out of his way to make sure that people understood the importance of that," Williams said. "John was one of the reasons more Black basketball coaches became head coaches back at that time. Nolan Richardson and John Chaney were probably the only well-known [Black] coaches, so John's success was important to upcoming, younger coaches. The Big East had very few African American officials back in the early-80s and John made sure that it changed completely."
Thompson fought for equality throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s for Black basketball coaches, and his death comes at a time where Black basketball players and coaches are leading the charge across sports to put an end to racial injustice and police brutality in America.
They led protests in June following George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, they organized protests and demonstrations in the NBA bubble as their 2019-20 season resumed play in early August. Then they stopped playing after Kenosha, Wis. police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, resulting in his paralysis.
Basketball players aren't afraid to use their platform and speak their mind now when they feel change is needed, which is something Thompson did time and again even after his coaching career came to a close.
"John's legacy will always be with us and he will be missed," Williams said.