When Syracuse Orange men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim exited the tunnel inside the Carrier Dome and came out onto the floor during Saturday’s game against Georgetown, he did so with a white towel draped over his right shoulder.
The towel, Boeheim said, was a sign of respect for legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson, who passed last summer. Boeheim believes that Thompson had more influence over the game of college basketball than any other coach, particularly when considering the totality of impact on not just basketball but life.
Syracuse’s game against Georgetown on Saturday marked the first time these two teams have faced each other since Thompson passed in late August.
“John Thompson meant a lot to all of us and all of college basketball. All the coaches. Both African American coaches and white coaches. He meant a lot, it wasn’t just one group. He meant a lot to everybody. He helped everybody,” Boeheim said post-game.
Thompson, of course, became the first Black head coach to win a National Championship. His Georgetown team achieved the feat in 1984 over Houston with Final Four MOP and current Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing. Thompson, however, resented the idea of being dubbed the first Black head coach to win a National Championship as he thought it implied that a Black man was finally intelligent enough to accomplish the feat.
Thompson, a long proponent of equal opportunity, was ahead of his time combating racism. Boeheim credits Thompson’s influence for having so many Black coaches in college basketball.
“The reason we have so many Black head coaches is because John Thompson. Not only was he a good coach, but he set an example and he pushed and pushed. Right until his last year or two he was pushing all the time for African American coaches. He was very successful at it. He was much more than a good basketball coach.”
Thompson had a career record of 596-239 (.714) at Georgetown. If not for Thompson, the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry doesn’t reach the lofty heights that it did. It was Thompson’s barb ‘Manley Field House is officially closed,’ following Georgetown’s win against Syracuse in 1980 that both ended Syracuse’s 38 game home winning streak and stoked the flames of a bitter rivalry.
Toward the end of his career and into his retirement, Thompson and Boeheim became friendly. But even in the halcyon days of the rivalry the two head coaches always shared a reverence for one another.
“We had an unbelievable rivalry. But we can come together. I know that’s hard in this country and we need to be able to see that,” Boeheim finished.