John Thompson, Hall of Fame basketball coach who led Georgetown to title, dead at 78

His death was announced in a family statement Monday

Loading the player...

WASHINGTON (AP) — John Thompson, the imposing Hall of Famer who turned Georgetown into a “Hoya Paranoia” powerhouse and became the first Black coach to lead a team to the NCAA men’s basketball championship, has died. He was 78

His death was announced in a family statement Monday. No details were disclosed.

Read More: UConn basketball player Stanley Robinson dead at 32

“More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear everyday,” the statement said. “We will miss him but are grounded in the assurance that we carry his faith and determination in us.”

One of the most celebrated and polarizing figures in his sport, Thompson took over a moribund Georgetown program in the 1970s and molded it in his unique style into a perennial contender, culminating with a national championship team anchored by center Patrick Ewing in 1984.

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. (AP Photo/File)

At 6-foot-10, with an ever-present white towel slung over his shoulder, Thompson literally and figuratively towered over the Hoyas for decades, becoming a patriarch of sorts after he quit coaching in 1999.

Read More: Nuggets’ Jamal Murray gets emotional over BLM after 50-point game

Former NBA superstar Allen Iverson, who won the 1996 Big East championship as a Georgetown player under Thompson, paid tribute to his former coach on Twitter.

“Thanks For Saving My Life Coach,” he wrote on Monday. “I’m going to miss you, but I’m sure that you are looking down on us with a big smile.”

One of Thompson’s sons, John Thompson III, was hired as Georgetown’s coach in 2004. When the son was fired in 2017, the elder Thompson — known affectionately as “Big John” or “Pops” to many — was at the news conference announcing Ewing as the successor.


Joseph White, a former AP sports writer in Washington who died in 2019, prepared this obituary. AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!

Loading the player...