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Big John Thompson Proved Winning Advances The Cause Of Black People More Than Whining

Beyond a commitment to a nuclear family, the most significant contribution a black person can make toward advancing racial equality is professional success.

Black excellence begets black opportunity. 

Big John Thompson, the legendary Georgetown basketball coach who died on Monday, exemplified my assertion. What he accomplished at tiny Georgetown University changed college basketball for a generation.

Thompson’s transformation of Georgetown’s basketball program from Eastern College Athletic Conference also-ran to Big East and national powerhouse ignited a wave of black-coaching empowerment that lasted three decades. 

After a brief stint as a high school coach in Washington, D.C., Thompson took over a 3-23 Georgetown squad in 1972. Two years later, Georgetown qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Four years after that, Thompson and the Hoyas joined the brand new Big East Conference and advanced to the NCAA’s Elite Eight.

That 1980 tournament run caught the attention of Patrick Ewing, a high school junior at the time and soon to be the greatest prep prospect since Lew Alcindor. Thompson beat out North Carolina’s Dean Smith for Ewing’s services.

Together, Thompson and Ewing birthed “Hoya Paranoia,” competed in three of the next four NCAA title games, won a championship and made lily-white Georgetown feel like America’s favorite historically black college.

Georgetown’s elevation in profile — Thompson and Ewing appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with President Ronald Reagan — and the school’s basketball-related economic windfall caused college presidents across the country to look for their Big John Thompson. 

Arkansas hired Nolan Richardson in 1985. Temple grabbed John Chaney in 1982. Minnesota acquired Clem Haskins in 1986. Richardson led the Razorbacks to the national title in 1994, becoming the second black coach after Thompson to win it all. Chaney’s Owls advanced to the Elite Eight five times. Haskins’ Gophers made it all the way to the Final Four.

Thompson, Richardson, Chaney and Haskins built sustainable programs. Their success in the 1980s and 1990s made college basketball the envy of sports leagues looking for diversity in leadership. 

At various points in the 2000s, the ACC, the SEC and the Big East had more black head coaches than white head coaches. 

This is the legacy of Big John Thompson. It’s no different from the legacy of Oprah Winfrey. Her talk-show success created opportunities for Wendy Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Star Jones, Robin Roberts, Sherri Shepherd, Gayle King and so many more. 

John Thompson took a job no one wanted, at a school where no one dreamed you could build a national powerhouse and built a kingdom in his image. When he retired in 1999, he named his former player and top assistant the new head coach. Big John’s youngest son played at Georgetown. His oldest son coached at Georgetown for more than a decade. His greatest player is now the head coach at the school.

Big John casted down his bucket. He’s the Booker T. Washington of basketball. 

We now live in an era where young people have been convinced their social media complaints, hashtags, slogans and commitment to avenging the deaths of resisting criminal suspects are the most important acts a black person can contribute toward equality. 

It’s a misreading of history. Or should I say a misleading of history?

Martin Luther King protested so following generations could pursue success, so black excellence could produce black opportunities. John Thompson stood on the shoulders of the generation that sacrificed for his right to build an American kingdom.

He achieved his American dream. It wasn’t easy, but America delivered its promise to John Thompson, and Big John shared his blessings with his sons, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Nolan Richardson, John Chaney, Clem Haskins, Tubby Smith, Randy Ayers and so many more. 

Whining and begging for the love and empathy of white people will never liberate and empower black people. Success will and does. 

Nobody gave John Thompson his success. He took it with the force of his work ethic, intellect, personality and will to succeed. Big John ran over anything that stood in his path to success. 

In the last decade, as the impact of what he accomplished in the 1980s finally dissipated, there have been numerous stories written about the fall of black college basketball coaches. 

Read this story, and this story and this story. Just punch “black college basketball coaches” into Google and you’ll find more stories about the decreasing number of black college coaches than you can read. 

What happened? Did America become more racist during the Obama presidency? Or maybe it’s Trump’s fault? Yeah, everything is Trump’s fault. That explains it. 

I honestly do not know the cause. I do, however, know the solution. We need more John Thompsons, leaders willing to cast down buckets and build kingdoms in their image. We, black people, need to snap out of the victim’s mindset and pushback against a culture that celebrates victims rather than conquerors. 

Instead of saying Jacob Blake’s name, instead of placing George Floyd’s moniker on NFL helmets, let’s say John Thompson’s name and honor his legacy on the back of jerseys and helmets. Let’s revere and celebrate the men and women who spent their time on earth pursuing success rather than the men we only know because of tragedy.  

If you’re black and want to advance the cause of black people, shut up and be successful. Your plea for white empathy does not create black opportunity. 

If you want Jason Whitlock for your TV or radio show or podcast, contact gary@outkick.com.

Written by Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock is a longtime sports writer, TV personality, radio host, podcaster and the newest member of the Outkick family.
Read more about Jason >>

50 Comments

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    • Brett, great post, I agree! The statement you quoted is indeed well said. Hopefully us VIP’s can continue to spread the word about OutKick. More people need to hear Whitlock’s message. Winning this culture war depends on it.

  1. Not a bad trio of coaches with Thompson, Cheney and Richardson to say the least. 1845 wins, .709% winning %, 3 national titles, 6 final 4’s, and over 50 NCAA tournament appearances. They are legendary coaching influencers for multiple generations of coaches.

  2. Jason, I have been a VIP member for just about 6 weeks, but I started following your comments back in Kansas City when you were a very successful sports reporter for the Kansas City Star Newspaper. We desperately need your message in that paper and I am very sorry to report that it is my opinion that you would not be invited back (as a reporter) because of your very important messages on the sports world today.
    Keep up the great work and the best that I can do is to simply suggest to my friends that they take a good luck at this publication.

    • Yes, we really miss Jason here in KC. And I’m afraid you’re right on his being unwelcome at today’s STAR…very woke staff at that “paper.”
      GREAT article by Jason on John Thompson and his powerful example.
      PS: I still laugh when remembering Jason’s column on “Leather Coat Model” Carl Peterson…

  3. Can anyone name a single ethnic minority in the history of planet earth, that rose to economic prominence by petitioning the majority for special dispensations?

    If you’re black and want to advance the cause of black people, shut up and be successful. Your plea for white empathy does not create black opportunity.

  4. Great read, big Whit has a rare gift that is an absolute pleasure to indulge in.

    I’ll take a stab at what I think is hindering black basketball coaches, and really basketball in general. This is the age of instant gratification, every super talented high school player seems to have at least one handler who is serving as their unofficial agent, and everyone wants to play run and gun AAU ball with no defense.

    John’s and especially Nolan’s teams were built on sweat and hard work. Nolan’s 40 minutes of hell for instance, no modern day kid would ever sign up for that. I think we’ve lost basketball forever to the shoe companies, and the sleazy uncles/AAU coaches looking to make a living off the kids they’re supposed to be mentoring. Lamar Ball is the grim reaper here to permanently steal the soul of basketball.

    • I had the same feelings about Clay at first. I came here because of Whit on SFY. However, after spending some time watching Clay’s YouTube show I have done a 180! It appears to me that Whit is blessed with a writing ability and Clay with being animated. Together is what makes Outkick’s future very bright.

  5. Knowing that just about every day, I can go on to OUTKICK and read intelligent and inspiring commentaries on sports and life makes my subscription one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Great job, Jason!

  6. Thanks for the insightful article! I loved watching the Georgetown games when he was the coach. I remember the recruiting war for Patrick Ewing. The other three coaches, Clem Haskins, Nolan Richardson and Dave Chaney coached teams fun to watch. Richardson’s full court press put many teams to shame. Chaney led Temple, always a force in the NCAA tournament. As well as Minnesota led Haskins. Sorry to hear of
    John Thompson’s passing. One of the best College Basketball coaches of all time. Thanks for the pleasant memories of outstanding coaches! There is a lot for the NBA, MLB and NFL to learn just from those four. Thank you again!

  7. Jason, great column, and I love how you spoke of John Thompson’s “positive energy”. The racist-liberal-white-elitists keep telling minorities they can’t do anything. The liberals don’t merely want to tear down physical statues, they want to destroy the spirit of our heroes.

    Lebron, ESPN, and liberals spout Marxist talking points about 1619 and confronting history. They tell us to confront events from seventy, one-hundred fifty, even four hundred years ago. Do you know what you soulless liberals? We confront our past every day when we drive down the countless streets all across America named after MLK. Heroes like MLK, John Lewis, and Booker T Washington lifted us up and we will never forget what they did for us as a country. In the words of MLK, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”; we will not let the soulless liberals prevent us from bending it the arc ever more towards justice.

    Liberals, you will not destroy memories of MLK, John Lewis, and John Thompson. We will not let you destroy inner cities, let violence overrun these cities, and then invent “white-privilege” as a term for those who do not live in the cities which soulless liberals destroyed (the data bears this out. In any given police encounter, minorities are not more likely to be killed by police. Instead, minorities have disproportionate police encounters because minorities are more likely to live in Liberal run cities)

    Liberals, we will not believe your lies, manipulated data, and edited videos. We will not let you extend your cancel culture into a nightmarish Marxist world where none of us have any rights. We will not let you continue to destroy democratic run cities, stir race wars, and manipulate us into destroying ourselves. We will win this culture war.

  8. John Thompson was his own man. He played on some great NBA Celtic championship teams and applied those lessons to his coaching and mentoring. He was also from DC and a Redskins fan.

    He also scared people.
    And he made some people angry.
    And He Certainly walked a line few could.

    Later after coaching, he had a successful radio show in DC. I didn’t like him in his coaching days (except when the beat Syracuse).

    I didn’t like him, until I listened to him daily. I think I kinda Loved him after I listened. I think I got to hear what his players could hear. Maybe a little bit.

    They could hear his HEART ❤️.
    I and other fans got to hear his heart 💜 too.
    Jus a Little bit.

    Great Work Jason. RIP Coach Thompson.

  9. Hey Jason,
    A great telling of an amazing journey. John Thompson had too much pride in himself and too much confidence to ever include empathy in his calculus. He took an opportunity that presented itself and he made his dreams a reality; for his family, his players, and his contemporaries.
    He would have scoffed at “white empathy”, but that’s where we are in today’s world. He was an outlier, and extraordinary. Unfortunately, most of us are consigned to ordinary lives (though hopefully our families think us a cut above ordinary lol).
    There are people out there who can inspire, and relate, and encourage. It just seems like the noise is so loud right now…

  10. I’m enraged by all the violent programming on television. So I’m going to take a courageous stand by replacing my 65-inch flatscreen with a 32-inch. I urge others to follow my brave example. This is how we fight injustice in America.

  11. John Thompson’s death will be under-celebrated, and underappreciated, and it’s weird to say this because you gotta wrap your mind around the twittersphere and America in it’s current state…He’s too successful and important to celebrate; his story defies the narrative, just like every single black American that ventured through some adversity. The truth is, is that there are people with the same amount of drive all over, of all colors…John Thompson was a MAN, and a LEADER…the race lens is getting super old..I’m so over the race lens, and I’m ready to celebrate people!!!!!!!!!

  12. This.
    This is what I love about sports.
    I love the success stories, the stories of overcoming against all odds, of working hard to achieve greatness, of the respect for a job well done and a game well played.
    This is what’s inspiring.
    The names of criminals on helmets, of SJW slogans on jerseys, of protesting just for the sake of doing something…none of that is inspiring.

  13. John Thompson Jr was not a great black basketball coach – he was a great basketball coach. John Thompson Jr. was not a great black man. He was a great man. He opened doors for great players and other great coaches – doesn’t matter what color their skin is, or imho, it shouldn’t.

    I didn’t agree with everything Big John said and believed, but I 100% agreed with HOW he did it – how he carried himself and executed his life’s gameplan. When Fred Brown threw away a chance at a National Championship to James Worthy in ’82, the image of Coach Thompson hugging him nearly immediately after that will be forever ingrained in my brain – and I was still in high school.

    Monday morning I went to Georgetown University Campus to in some way pay my respects. The John R. Thompson Jr. Athletic Center was locked up due to C19 and there were not many students there for the same reason. I did talk to a few nurses there to help with C19 testing at McDonough Gym and a GT Univ Bus Driver, all of us sharing memories of the Coach. The building bearing his name is a state-of-the-art practice center, weight room, locker room and Athletic Dept offices – truly exceptional.

    https://guhoyas.com/sports/2018/6/6/facilities-thompson-center-html.aspx

    What isn’t shown in this video is the place I was trying to go to. Coach Thompson was a devout Catholic and insisted on one design attribute in the building: a courtyard with a statue of the Virgin Mary where student athletes could go and reflect and meditate and pray if they desired. May he rest in peace knowing he positively affected the lives of so many people he never met regardless of the color of their skin, like a 14-year old kid watching the ’82 National Championship game in my family’s home in Salem, VA.

  14. Not one of the lotting, ransacking, bullying, thieving, screaming, killing rabble in the street even know who John Thompson was, much less what he stood for. Nor would they care if they knew. They detest America and people like Coach T. Rip, Coach. We won’t forget.

  15. killer as usual great analogy with Booker T Washington another guy that gets swept under the rug in BLM world. Best story I herd about John Thompson came from an interview with Sleepy Floyd the talk show host tried to bait Floyd into bashing Bobby Knight. Floyd threw him a curve ball and said young people needed the disciple Coaches like Thompson and Khight provided and told a story about Thompson being upset with the effort of the team in a game despite winning. Thompson got all the players out of bed at 3 in morning to practice and run. The show host was shocked and he never herd about that. Floyd said Thompson would do things like that often to discipline us and make us mental tough for all areas of our life no one gives you anything. Goes along with the your point of no whining. Great Article RIP Coach Thompson thanks for giving what kids need to make it love and discipline

  16. Jayson, I used to Love college sports. Mostly because I am a competition junkie but, also because of the human aspect of it. It used to represent something besides just the almighty dollar. When ESPN was first introduced I thought it was the greatest thing of all time. I didn’t understand how 24hr sports and the money that followed was going to change the sports that I Loved and why I Loved them. I was not a Georgetown fan, but I was a John Thompson fan. Because of the influence he was having on those young men’s lives that was going to help mold and carry those men long after their playing days were over and the lives of their children, and their children’s, children. America needed more men like John Thompson then, and America really needs more men like John Thompson, especially Now.

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