Just a couple of hours ago, it was announced HOF coach John Thompson died at the age of 78. Thompson left a big mark in basketball history by becoming the first African-American coach to win an NCAA title with the Georgetown Hoyas in 1984. He built out a strong basketball program at Georgetown, one of the best in the country, and numerous great NBA players were coached and, above all, guided and mentored by him.
NBA legend Allen Iverson is one of the players coached by Thompson and provided a father figure for him when he needed one the most. Even though Iverson’s initial intent wasn’t attending Georgetown, his mother got involved in the entire process and basically asked Thompson to accept her son because she recognized he was trustworthy capable of pointing Iverson in the right direction.
My mom went to John Thompson and asked, ‘Can you save my son’s life,’ and he gave me a chance, saved my life. He always says it’s that it was because of my mom that he took me. But it had to do something with the talent level. It had to.Allen Iverson, via The Players Tribune
Iverson’s remarkable athleticism enabled him to be equally dominant in basketball and football, and universities around the country wanted to bring him in at any cost. Iverson also never denied that there was a lot more passion in him towards football than basketball, but life turned out that way that he became an NBA legend.
When coming to Georgetown, he even started crying when passing by a football field, which made him ask coach Thompson if he could also play football. According to Iverson, Thompson was absolutely furious and immediately diminished any idea Iverson had about playing football parallel with basketball. Now, looking back on it, that was probably a better decision because it made him focus solely on his craft on the basketball court.
I remember the first time I went in there, I was in the weight room, and I had to pass the football field to get to the gym. And I used to pass the field crying because football was my first love. I wanted to go to Notre Dame and play football and basketball. I used to pass the football field and cry. So I’m thinking like ‘Man, I’m gonna ask coach, can I play football”. I don’t think on camera we can say what he said to me, but I got the message I would never go ask him to play football again.Allen Iverson, via The Players Tribune
Thompson’s greatness was personified in the approach he had towards his players. He never cared where they come from or who they are if they made a conscious decision to be a team player while, and in return, Thompson gave them all the tools to succeed as not just great basketball players but also great people. Iverson came in with a mindset that he wanted to prove he wasn’t a bad person as a lot of media portrayed him to be, and Thompson took notice of that.
I always cared about on what he thought. You know what I mean? I always wanted to prove to him, with all my baggage, that coming in I wasn’t a bad apple.Allen Iverson, via The Players Tribune
Iverson wasn’t the only player that was coached by Thompson. Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, just to name a few. They all came out of his program at Georgetown, ready both mentally and physically to play the game the right way. They could all probably share numerous stories on what made Thompson the HOF coach and an excellent human being that he genuinely was