By Gary Moore, thegarydmoore.com
On Monday, August 31, 2020, I got the devastating news of the passing of the legendary Coach John Thompson Jr. I felt as though I had loss yet another important person in my life without having the opportunity to say goodbye. My connection to Coach Thompson wasn’t like that of a family member even though the profound impact that he had on my life will live with me forever. He was my role model. I watched him from a distance for many years and patterned the way that I lived my life as a result of what I saw. It is because of him that I wanted to be a Life Coach and I wanted to be the best coach that I could be. My biological father (the late Albert Moore Sr.) first instilled in me the importance of giving of myself to help and empower others through sports. Coach Thompson was the living example of what my father was trying to teach me.
I was only a junior in high school when I first heard his name, but what he meant to young people always stood out in a way that was extremely admirable and inspirational. The year was 1972 and he had just been named the Head Coach of Georgetown University Men’s Basketball team, and by the time I completed my senior year, the Hoyas had become my favorite college basketball team. The team was made up of a majority of young black men who were on their own plight to adulthood and coached by a strong black man in John Thompson Jr. The importance of education became very clear to me the more I saw of Coach Thompson and the Georgetown Hoyas. Keep in mind that Georgetown University was one of the most prestigious private schools in the nation, so I could imagine the fact that Coach Thompson and the young black men on his team represented only a fraction of the Black population on this campus. That fact did not stop him from giving these kids the nurturing that they had to have needed at their home away from home.
He was teaching these people how to live responsibly and made them accountable for their actions. He sold these potential student-athletes and their parents on a dream that if they handled their responsibilities and stayed the course their chances for success was greater at Georgetown University than anywhere else in the country. What made what he was saying different from other college recruiters was that it was true, and he made sure of it. He taught them how to compete and winning came along with their positive outlook on life. The basketball part was secondary but equally important to the individual success. They may not have won every basketball game that was played however, one thing that was certain when you played the Hoyas you knew that you were about to engage in a war of physical and mental toughness. That was John Thompson Jr. and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
I would go on to college and upon my return I wanted to coach and make a difference in the lives of young people the way that Coach Thompson was doing. I found myself listening to as many of his post and pregame interviews as I could in an effort to get a better understanding of who this giant of man was. When he would speak everyone seemed to listen as he spoke with a level of intelligence that was very impressive. He always stood up for his players and looked to protect them from any outside interference no matter where it came from. When he pulled his team off the floor in opposition to Proposition 48 it showed me who he was as a Black man in America. He also showed the world what it meant to stand up for what you truly believed. I learned as much as I could about Proposition 48 and why it was so important to Coach. I didn’t understand it all at the time but what I did learn about it was that the majority of college recruits that disqualified because of the proposition were black. That was enough for me to understand why it bothered him so much and why he took such a stand against it.
When I started coaching football I would always stand up for my players. I would support them when they were right and corrected them as best I could when they were wrong. The integrity and the quality of the person outside of who he or she was as a player was always the most important part of a child’s development. Coach Thompson influenced those type of qualities in me without even knowing it. In fact, I first introduced myself to him in a letter that I wrote him in 1995. In the letter, I let him know who I was and how much I looked up to him and how appreciative I was for what he was doing for the young people at Georgetown. I also let him know that I was looking forward to him helping a young man that I know named Allen Iverson. I was so appreciative of the opportunity that was given to Iverson. I also waited patiently for the opportunity to meet him in person even though I felt that I already knew the man.
He knew me as well and when we finally got the opportunity to meet in person after Allen had left Georgetown, he continued to stay in contact with me and Allen. Allen was now one of the wonderful people who called Georgetown University home and he was a permanent part of the Hoya family. I too felt that connection and enjoyed the many conversations that Coach and I shared about life. I felt his genuine concern for mankind and I always admired the love that he had for his kids and every person who ever played basketball or was associated with the university.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his immediate family and the Georgetown Family at this time of bereavement. I can only imagine how much they will miss his incredible presence and the enormous legacy that is Coach John Thompson Jr. The time that he spent on earth will long be remembered and treasured by those who had the pleasure of knowing him. I want to personally thank the Thompson Family for sharing him with us. I will never forget.