Long-time Georgetown head coach John Thompson, who was the first Black head coach ever to win a national championship while rivaling with the likes of St. John’s and Villanova throughout the 1980s, has died at age 78.
“We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr,” the Thompson family said in a statement released by Georgetown. “Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on, but most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else.
“However, for us, his greatest legacy remains as a father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. More than a coach, he was our foundation. More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear every day. We will miss him but are grounded in the assurance that we carry his faith and determination in us. We will cherish forever his strength, courage, wisdom, and boldness, as well as his unfailing love.
“We know that he will be deeply missed by many and our family appreciates your condolences and prayers. But don’t worry about him, because as he always liked to say, ‘Big Ace is cool.'”
Thompson coached 27 seasons at Georgetown, taking them from an outlier of an independent school and developing it into a powerhouse during the glory days of the Big East Conference.
He made the NCAA Tournament 20 times while leading them to the Final Four three times and winning a national championship in 1984.
At the Washington, D.C. school, Thompson developed the likes of notable NBA stars and Hall of Famers ranging to Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, and Alonzo Mourning.
Away from Georgetown, he also coached the 1988 United States national team to a bronze medal in the Olympics.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 shortly after his coaching career ended at Georgetown.
The 6-foot-10 trailblazing coach also excelled as a player at the collegiate level, leading Providence to a NIT championship in 1963. He was selected by the Boston Celtics in the third round of the 1964 draft but was mainly used as a backup to the legendary Bill Russell.
Still, he won two NBA titles with Boston in his two NBA seasons.
Amongst his survivors are his sons, John Thompson III and Ronny Thompson, and daughter Tiffany Thompson.