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Trailblazing Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson dies

Thompson was the first Black head coach to win an NCAA championship.

John Thompson Getty

John Thompson — former coach of the Georgetown Hoyas — has passed away at 78 years old. The cause of Thompson’s death is unknown, but his passing was confirmed by friends and family on Monday morning (Aug. 31).

Thompson coached Georgetown for 27 seasons and became the first Black head coach to win a major collegiate championship when he led the basketball team to an NCAA Division 1 national championship in 1984. Thompson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He had only recently retired from the Nike Board of Directors this past May.

ABC7 sports anchor Lou Holder remembered Thompson and their friendship on “Good Morning Washington” Monday morning (Aug. 31).

“Right off the heels of [the death of] Chadwick Boseman — who played the mythical Black Panther — John Thompson was the real-life Black Panther,” Holder said. “He was larger-than-life for Black people, for mankind, for social justice. He was more than just a basketball coach; he was a leader of men, he was a communicator. He demanded so much respect — not just because of his size, but his intelligence, the way he was able to communicate with people. I mean, he was that dude.”

Thompson walked off the court before a game in 1989 to protest against Proposition 48 — an NCAA measure that would prohibit academically ineligible freshmen from accessing scholarships. Thompson said the proposition unfairly limited opportunities for minority students.

“I’ve done this because — out of frustration — you’re limited in your options of what you can do in response to something I felt was very wrong,” the legendary coach told The Washington Post that day. “This is my way of bringing attention to a rule a lot of people were not aware of — one which will affect a great many individuals. I did it to bring attention to the issue in hopes of getting [NCAA members] to take another look at what they’ve done, and if they feel it unjust, change the rule.”

Thompson is credited not only with building the team into a juggernaut, but for being outspoken about social justice issues and acting as a pioneer for Black coaches. Beyond the national championship, he also led Georgetown to three Final Fours, won seven Big East titles and secured a bronze medal for the 1988 United States national team in the Olympics.

Rest in peace. See some tributes on Twitter below.

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