Old Hoyas Don’t Die-They Disappear

By Dash Robinson Hoya Staff Writer

John Thompson has become one of the legends he once helped create. After 27 years, 597 victories, twenty NCAA tournament appearances and seven conference titles, Thompson will, at least temporarily, disappear into the murky haze of past basketball glories. He may return to the college ranks or to the NBA in some capacity in the near future, but his retirement as head man at Georgetown completes a cycle of obscurity and renown that befits a man of his commanding influence.

The view from the Hilltop when Thompson took the reins in 1972 was not a particularly pleasant one for Hoya fans. The Hoyas had just endured a 3-23 season and were mired in the depths of college basketball purgatory. Name recognition as we know it now was non-existent. The Hoyas wallowed in anonymity, the kiss of death in college athletics.

Thompson’s rebuilding began almost immediately, though, and the Hoyas were in the NCAA Mideast Regional in just his third year. Nine years later came the national title, and now, after a quarter of a century, Thompson’s tale is complete.

Along the way, the coach intertwined the subtleties of basketball with the realities of life, and made men out of the players he guided on the hardwood. He was the consummate father figure, and 97 percent of the “children” he raised earned their degree from Georgetown University.

Thompson, though, did more than give his players a new lease on life. He made the truly great ones into legends, creating an aura of invincibility around his program that has only recently been diminished by a string of bad luck and countless unrealized expectations. Players like Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85), Alonzo ourning (CAS ’92), Dikembe Mutombo (CAS ’91) and Allen Iverson carry with them an enchanting aloofness that could only be borne out of Georgetown basketball.

News of their visits to campus spreads quickly. “Where’s ‘Zo? What kind of car is he driving? How many gold chains does Allen really have?” They are equal parts man and myth, and can disappear into the stillness of a D.C. night just when you were ready to catch a glimpse.

Thompson created these legends but, until now, was never completely one himself. While fans could search in vain for Patrick or Dikembe somewhere in the crowd, come game time one would always know where to find coach Thompson. He prowled the sideline, screaming out instructions, living and dying with his team’s fate that particular night. Win or lose, Thompson was always there, a spectacle unto himself who was exposed for a couple hours a few times a week. Exposed to adoration in victory, wrath in defeat, but exposed nonetheless. You could count on that.

Now, though, he will follow the same path as his players, disappearing into nowhere, unaccounted for, leaving Georgetown without an icon when perhaps we need one the most. This, though, is not to say that Thompson owes us anything. His personal issues need to be attended to, if that’s the story you choose to believe. Whatever his motivation for doing so, Thompson departs, leaving a void where there has not been one in 27 years.

Legends are funny things because they ripen and come of age when no one is really paying attention. They become most visible when no one is looking for them, or expects them to make an impact at that time. The old adage that says we don’t know what we have until it is gone, is the stuff of legends, because that is what legends are for – they come back and remind us of all that they have done when we have almost long forgotten.

Only now do we fully appreciate the legacy that Thompson will leave here at Georgetown. Over the past year and a half, it has been easy to make him the object of our ire rather than our praise, and this is probably logical. Sports fans are notoriously forgetful. That is our right.

Now, however, the accolades pile up as Thompson makes his departure, and I for one am sad to see him go. Thompson always excited me; he always made me think that we had a shot at winning and even if we did not. He was larger than life, and I could count on seeing him do what he does best whenever tip-off time came around.

But now it is time for Thompson to disappear into the mist from whence he came, to peek his head in and out of the caverns and corners of MCI Center and McDonough Arena and make some unsuspecting fan yelp with joy:

“Yo, Thompson’s here! John Thompson!”

And then he will disappear again, before any of that lucky fan’s friends can see him, too. He will prowl the corridors of basketball arenas, and sneak up upon someone not prepared.

“Did you get a picture of him?”

“No, I didn’t know he was gonna just walk right in front of us!”

That is the stuff that legends are made of, the stuff with which John Thompson worked throughout his whole Georgetown career.


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