In one of the most astonishing moments of his celebrated coaching career, John Thompson confronted a local drug lord Rayful Edmond III. Edmond, feared by the local community in Washington D.C., reportedly had ties with two Georgetown players, John Turner and freshman Alonzo Mourning.
The early 1980s success of the Georgetown basketball program on a national level was one of the rare success stories related to Washington D.C.’s inner-city life.
The local community had been hit hard by crack, a nemesis that flourished on unemployment and inflation. But it went all the way down from there – crack cocaine transformed Washington into the murder capital of the United States.
“People are scared to get involved, scared to confront. That type of informal counseling is nonexistent. There are very few people like that in the streets anymore. The total pressure now is on the police.”John Thompson, Washington Post
After it shocked the basketball world by taking away one of the game’s mightiest players ever in Len Bias, drugs pushed the University of Maryland basketball program years back. His unfortunate passing wasn’t enough to raise the alarm bell. In no time, crack cocaine hell threatened one of the nation’s top collegian basketball programs – Georgetown, home of the 1984 national collegian champions.
“We cannot close ourselves off from the whole of society. Anybody who experienced the Len Bias situation knows we cannot isolate (ourselves), seal ourselves off from people. We’d better start confronting these problems. We’d better understand we’re incorporated into these problems. This isn’t them or they. The people involved with the drugs and being killed are our children.”John Thompson, Washington Post
Being aware of what kind of harm this ultimate nemesis could do to his work, Georgetown University head coach and 1988 U.S. Olympic coach John Thompson, decided to undertake a preemptive strike on drugs. And knowing that this could be his only chance to hit it and protect his players, he did it with style. Thompson went for the head, not for the body.
Upon returning from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Thompson was warned that the two of his players, John Turner and Alonzo Mourning, had been seen with the notorious local drug lord – Rayful Edmond.
Knowing that none of his players are involved with the drugs after the regular preseason drug test, Thompson organized a closed preseason meeting with the team to address the ongoing problem.
“The frightening thing is that we’re beginning to isolate too much. There’s got to be some dialogue, not just shutting them out. The people [who are involved with drugs] aren’t getting any counseling, whether it’s from adults or peers.”John Thompson, Washington Post
At the time, Edmond’s criminal organization was responsible for approximately 20% of the local drug trafficking, which amounted to the estimated revenue of roughly around $300 million. It had also been connected to executions of more than 30 people in a single year. Some of those murders had occurred in The Chapter III, a notorious nightclub known as a gathering place for drug dealers. Thompson made it clear to his players that this notorious place is off-limits for team members.
Then, he spread the word around the city that he would like to meet with Edmond in his office at McDonough Gymnasium.
Edmond eventually agreed. Thompson bravely went in the very eye of the storm knowing one thing for sure – that he and Edmond shared the same passion and platform – the love for the basketball. As notorious he was at the time, Edmond was reportedly one of the most known local playground players and a great Georgetown Hoyas fan.
“I figured, ‘He plays basketball, he loves basketball. Let me talk to this man. My thing is basketball. Let me try and confront this problem immediately.‘”John Thompson, Washington Post
The meeting went well. Edmond was eager to listen to one of the top basketball coaches, and Thompson succeeded in making himself clear. Thompson insisted that Edmond cut or significantly reduce all present of future ties with players associated with his program.
“I tried to make sure he knew the goals and objectives of my kids, and (tried to) make it very clear to him that I didn’t want anything going on with my kids. I was trying to deal immediately with a specific problem.”John Thompson, Washington Post
John Thompson’s coaching tenure at Georgetown lasted a quarter of the century – from 1972 until 1997. It’s believed that Thompson was the only person who managed to stand up against Edmond without facing any eventual retribution.