Former Georgetown men’s basketball head coach John Thompson is dead at 78 years old. Thompson’s cause of death was not reported.
The news was initially reported by Washington, D.C., radio station The Team 980 & 95.9FM.
Thompson’s death was confirmed by ABC7 in Washington, D.C.
Thompson Made History as an African American Coach
In 27 seasons, Thompson racked up a coaching record of 596-239, and 97% of his players stayed all four years and left with a college degree, according to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Thompson became the first African American head coach to win the NCAA National Championship when the Hoyas beat the University of Houston Cougars in the 1984 NCAA National Championship game.
According to NACDA, Thompson was also the first African American president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches from 1985 to 1986; the first African American Division I Basketball Coach of the Year — an honor he received in 1982, 1985 and 1986; the first African American Basketball Coach in the Big East Conference in 1979; and the first African American Big East Coach of the Year in 1980, which he also won in 1987 and 1992.
Tributes to Thompson Filled Twitter After News of His Death Broke
A Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Thompson retired from coaching in 1999 and cited marital issues, according to the New York Times. During his tenure at Georgetown, he coached several NBA first-round picks including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson.
In his Hall of Fame Induction speech in 2016, Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers’ first pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, thanked Thompson for keeping him alive. “I want to thank coach Thompson … for saving my life,” he said.
“For giving me the opportunity. I was recruited by every school in the country for football and basketball. And an incident happened in high school and all that was taken away. No other teams, no other schools were recruiting me anymore. My mom went to Georgetown and begged him to give me a chance. And he did.”
Twitter users posted tributes to Thompson after news of his death began circulating.
Thompson had surgery in 2015 to correct a benign twisted intestine, which caused him to miss calling the NCAA tournament that year. “While we will miss John’s presence to tip off the NCAA Tournament, we are most thankful that his health is improving and he is feeling better every day,” Westwood One executive producer Howard Deneroff said back then, according to Sporting News.
“There is a seat waiting for him whenever he is ready to return on the road to the Final Four.”
Before coaching and television, the 6-foot-10-inch Thompson played college basketball at Providence College and won All-American in his senior year, according to the Providence Friars website.
Thompson was the Friars’ all-time leader in points, scoring average and field goal percentage and second in rebounds.
Thompson was a third-round pick by the Boston Celtics in the 1964 NBA Draft and was Bill Russell’s backup.
In his NBA career, Thompson averaged 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 74 games played. Thompson retired from basketball in 1966 to focus on coaching. Before retiring, he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in their expansion draft in 1966, as was the late Jerry Sloan, who later became head coach of the Utah Jazz after his playing career. Sloan also died this year at age 78.