Friends and family of Hall of Famer John Thompson, the architect of the Georgetown Hoyas’ gilded age, say the legendary coach has died, reports WJLA TV.
Thompson’s cause of death is unknown at this time. He was 78 years old.
The first Black coach to win an NCAA championship, the 6'10" Thompson was a larger-than-life figure, literally and figuratively. He’s widely credited with building up the Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team from an afterthought into a perennial contender.
When Thompson took the head coaching role in 1972, the team had a dismal 3-23 record, reports NBC Washington. But over his 27 years as head coach, the team would become one of the marquee teams of the Big East—and all of college basketball. Many in the Washington, D.C. area will still recall the Hoyas’ golden years during the ’80s, when Thompson led the Hoyas to three Final Fours in 1982, 1984 and 1985. The team secured a title in 1984, making Thompson the first Black head coach to win an NCAA championship. In total, Thompson and the Hoyas would reach the NCAA Tournament 20 times.
Thompson’s influence rippled out across the DC region and the game of basketball. Former WJLA TV sports anchor Lou Holder told Good Morning Washington that Thompson was a “real-life Black Panther,” on Monday morning.
“He was larger than life for Black people, for mankind, for social justice,” Holder told the local news show.
During his time at the helm, Thompson recruited and mentored some of the most influential players in the game, including Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson—all of whom were selected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He finished his career with 596 NCAA wins.
Thompson had recently retired earlier this year from the Nike Board of Directors and has an autobiography slated for release next January.
He is survived by his three children, John Thompson III, Ron and Tiffany.