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Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. — the first Black coach to win a NCAA title — has died. Here’s what he fought for

Legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. dies at age 78

SHARE Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. — the first Black coach to win a NCAA title — has died. Here’s what he fought for
In this March 9, 1985, file photo, Georgetown NCAA college basketball head coach John Thompson poses with player Patrick Ewing after Georgetown defeated St. John’s in the Big East Championship in New York.

In this March 9, 1985, file photo, Georgetown NCAA college basketball head coach John Thompson poses with player Patrick Ewing after Georgetown defeated St. John’s in the Big East Championship in New York.

Associated Press

Legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. has died at age 78.

Thompson — who had the nickname “Big John” — made basketball history as the first Black coach to win an NCAA title. He turned Georgetown into a featured program, winning seven titles in the Big East and making three Final Four appearances. And, in 1988, he brought the United States a bronze medal.

And, according to The Washington Post, Thompson used his positive to help lift others up. He helped use college basketball to encourage Black athletes to find opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

In the immediate hours after news broke about his death Thompson has been praised because he carried his faith with him and always shared love for others, per ESPN.

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,” his family said in a statement. “He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else.”

His family said “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 everyday. 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 was the coach behind many of the world’s biggest centers, including  Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning. He also coached Allen Iverson, who spent two years under Thompson with the Hoyas. Iverson spoke about his coach’s passing on Twitter.

“....May you always Rest in Paradise, where there is no pain or suffering. I will always see your face in my mind, hoping that I made you proud. ‘Your Prodigal Son,’” he wrote.

Michael Jordan — who hit a game-winning shot against Thompson’s Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA title game — released a statement, too.

“Coach Thompson was truly a great man and a legend in college basketball,” Jordan wrote. “He had such a profound impact on his players and was a father figure to so many of them. I admired him and love shim dearly. My deepest condolences to his family and the Georgetown community.”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said Monday morning that one of Thompson’s biggest legacies is what he did for the community.

“I was very fortunate to get to know him and he’s one of the people I admire most in the world. John Thompson was a great human being,” Bilas said, according to 24/7 Sports. “His impact went so far beyond Xs and Os and 800 wins. It was more about who he was as a person. He was a tremendous human being.”

Thompson was known for helping the community. He held his players to high standards. He fought to make sure they saw the value in education.

“He didn’t want his players to be viewed as charity cases, as if their educations were an otherwise undeserved gift,” The Athletic reported. “Certainly, he knew the stereotypes that his team defied, but he refused to be part of a lazy narrative. He held the Hoyas to higher standards because his parents held him to higher standards, and because he believed they could meet the same thresholds as anyone else.”

But Thompson didn’t want to be seen “as some sort of Peter Pan, a man championing the cause of the less fortunate, using his position to extend a Georgetown education to others who may otherwise not be able to achieve it,” according to The Athletic.

He didn’t want there to be that extra pressure. He wanted the push for education to be normalized and fair.

“I don’t want to be a social worker. Let’s take this education thing,” Thompson told The Washington Post. “They all say, ‘Thompson is wonderful because he stresses education, education, education.’ Well, they hired me to coach basketball. If I say I want my kids to get an education, it’s perceived as an extraordinary thing, that I’m a martyr or something. Why should that be?’’