John Thompson

"Big John" Makes MAJOR Assist
A Lesson In Giving Through Basketball

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New York Avenue in Washington, DC is a MAJOR thoroughfare for entry and exit into Washington, DC, arguably the most important artery for access to the city, especially coming from points north. That is significant in a lot of ways. Sure, DC is filled with many people who have hailed from the south, but from a competition perspective, we often look north to compare ourselves. New Yorkers and Philadelphians have many arguments about who is the leader in fashion, finance, contributions to entertainment and music worlds, sometimes even government, where they KNOW they lose. And, then there is basketball. And, as a Washingtonian, I know the numbers. I know the amount of folks from Philly, New York and Chicago, as well as other places who are contributors in basketball, but “pound for pound” and as far as numbers per capita, we have put more people in the pros and positions of importance in the basketball world. Now, I am speaking of local DC, not official Washington. This story is about a man who reached in his pocket and his heart and did something that made him proud. Big John Thompson donated $42,000 at the last hour (the club was due to close one day before Big John made the donation) to a boys club, that was significant in his life, which means that a man known for his defense made a MAJOR assist.

DC is a small town, as opposed to Washington, the power town with power players and where powerful and impactful decisions are made that influence the entire world. In DC, everybody knows everybody, after a while. DC also, it is said, is a Redskin town, but we LOVE basketball. In an upcoming documentary, entitled “Supreme Courts – How Washington Basketball Changed The World,” my co-producers and I explore the many people and many accomplishments that have come about as a result of the love of basketball that has been in effect for YEARS in DC. We talk to over 100 people, from the mayor of Detroit (Dave Bing, a Hall of Fame former NBA star from NE DC) to at least 15 coaches and basketball executives who got their start on the playgrounds and gyms of Washington, excuse me, DC, and the immediate surrounding area to the winningest coach in college basketball history who said loudly, defiantly and with much self-assurance that his program was given its solid foundation in his first years at Duke by recruiting two kids at a DC playground (Coach Mike K and Jelleff Boys Club in Georgetown). These Boys & Girls Clubs have been havens for kids and a place to build game, character and taught life principles and give kids an assist, which Big John and his sons and grandsons have also received from The Bill Butler & Julius Wyatt Boys Club, formerly the number 2 Boys Club.

Going back to John Thompson, Jr., many people know him as the architect of a basketball program and defensive style of play that defined a new league, the Big East, in the late 70s and early 80s. He did quite a few defining and pioneering things in his life. I will try to enumerate them here, because the list is long. First of all, he was a high school coach who knew where the DC talent was and he put an invisible gate around the city and kept much of that talent here to build his program. He understood that a frantic, hurried and aggressive style of play could and would wear teams down. More socially significant, he took inner city and sometimes troubled kids and gave them a chance to attain a quality education by getting them into Georgetown and having the ability to rub shoulders with people with whom these kids from “the other side of the tracks” would never have a chance of networking. Yet another societal matter that he addressed was to shield these kids from some of the evils of society. All of these good deeds may not have been gotten at or started at the Boys Club where he learned and honed his skills, but I am sure that the seeds were sown, which is why he probably had a soft spot in his heart and pocket for the place, thus the MAJOR assist with the financial donation.

Again, I cannot talk enough about what basketball means and has meant to DC. In that documentary that was discussed earlier in this essay, many people have talked about the various opportunities that were afforded them by being involved in basketball. One gentleman, Ed Tapscott, who is a basketball lifer talked about going to and playing at prestigious Sidwell Friends and going to Tufts University. He admitted that he wasn’t the best baller, but loved the game enough to stay around it and it has provided him an honest, if not enviable living for him as player, coach, administrator and executive with a couple of teams, including his hometown Bullets and later Wizards. Several who played on all levels are coaches on the high school, college and professional ranks. Still others like CBS’s James Brown used his skills at DeMatha HS to go to Harvard and eventually end up as one of the most recognized and skilled announcers on television over the last 20 years. An assist in basketball is when you pass the ball to someone who makes the basket. In life, an assist is about giving or giving help. Basketball has allowed many of these people to give and receive help, which is JUST what John Thompson did when he helped that ailing Boys Club with his donation. He was long known for creating and employing great defense, but learned another aspect of the game along the way, which is where the assist MUST have come from.

The world needs people to step up and give back. Nobody, that’s right NOBODY gets “there” by themselves. Those that think so are, on one hand or extreme sadly mistaken or simple minded. On the other hand, many are selfish, narcissistic and are probably fairly delusional. Many people do things and give back anonymously. Many do so in their name, so that their kids and perhaps kids’ kids can know and have an example of giving. Either way, it is good and the right thing to do. I like the fact that Bill Gates and some of his fellow billionaires have looked out on the horizon and decided that they would give away much of their wealth. We ALL know that you can’t take it with you or that you won’t have a Brinks truck behind the hearse. I wrote an essay entitled, “Don’t Forget To Send The Elevator Back Down.” In it, I talked about the fact that you don’t have to be Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or even John Thompson to give back or send the elevator back down. I also talked about and made the comparison that you don’t have to be on the 50th or 60th floor to send the elevator back down, but rather, extending a hand can be from any place, even from the 2nd to the first floor. The sooner you do it, the better you will feel. Most people who give back or make an assist SWEAR that they feel better when giving rather than receiving. I do so when I can and it feels good, as I am sure that “Big John” felt when he made his assist.

For those who may not know, Georgetown basketball is a brand. That brand was developed by none other than John Thompson. There was a time when kids all over the country could be seen with Georgetown tee-shirts, hats and other garb, many not REALLY knowing where the school is or what it represents academically, only that a fiery and giving coach had developed a program. This is the seeds of lifestyle marketing. When someone that has a high Q rating or is followed by many does something, wears something or gets behind a cause, they have followers. On the giving side of things, it doesn’t have to always be money either. Recently, for Easter/Good Friday, the new pope, Pope Francis washed the feet of prisoners/detainees. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie gave of their time and money to assist with re-building New Orleans. My church, C.O.H., gives of its time, talent and energy by going out in the community to help with less fortunate people through many of its ministries such as the Outreach Ministry and Social Justice Ministry All of these gestures are ones that offer assists to people in need. When it is done by entities that people are drawn to, others all likely to jump in, as these acts are symbolic and catalytic in nature.

Though not always reported, there are a lot of people prone to giving and giving back to causes important to them. Big John has been seen and it is reported that he is rough and “gruff,” but over the years, I have seen a softer side, like when he cried at his retirement announcement. And, he stood for something like when he walked off the court in protest of Proposition 42. I guess when you are big and have to take and make major stands, you have to wear a mask. Hell, we ALL wear a mask of sorts. But, he had to take that mask off for something and someone who meant the world to him. You see, no matter who you are and where you come from, somebody came before you and paved the way. So MUST be the case for and with John Thompson, Jr. The gentlemen whose names are on the building have gotten quite a bit of recognition, ESPECIALLY where that gym and building sits, on the gateway into arguably THE most powerful city in the world. Most will just pass through and perhaps not notice it, but the building and the Boys & Girls Club will stand for a little while longer, because a man who was known for having unbelievable defenses made a MAJOR assist and kids can continue to learn and play the game of basketball, as well as the game of life!

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3000 Points Club: Archie Talley, Salem 3720 2000 Points Club: Jack Sullivan, Mount Saint Mary 2672, Dave Robinson, Navy 2669, Austin Carr, Notre Dame 2560, Johnny Dawkins, Duke 2556, Jeff Covington, Youngstown State 2424, Carlos Yates, George Mason 2420, Gene Littles,High Point College 2398, Lawrence Moten, Syracuse 2334, Chris McGuthrie. Mount Saint Mary 2297, Greg Saunders, St Bonnies 2238, Louis Bullock, Michigan 2224, Adrian Dantley, Notre Dame 2223, Kenny Saunders, George Mason 2177, Randolph Childress, Wake Forest 2208, Keith Herron, Villanova 2170, Danny Ferry, Duke 2156, Len Bias, Maryland, 2149, Dennis Scott, Georgia Tech 2115, David Hawkins, Temple 2077, Sherman Douglas, Syrcuse 2060, Fred Hentzel, Davidson 2032, Adrian Branch, Maryland 2017 50 Points Club: Archie Talley / Salem College / 11 times / 4 TIMES IN ONE WEEK, Austin Carr/ Notre Dame / 9 times, Elgin Baylor / Seattle / 2 times, Danny Ferry / Duke / 58/ 1time, Will Jones / American University 54 / 1 time, Fred Hetzel / Davidson / 53/ 1 time, Dave Robinson / Navy/ 50 /1time, Jack Sullivan / Mount St.Marys / 50 / 2 times, Jack Sullivan / Mount St.Marys / 40 / 6 times 40 Points Club: Austin Carr / Notre Dame / 23 times, Archie Talley / Salem College / 20 times, Elgin Baylor / Seattle College / 4 times, John Austin / Boston College / 4 times, Fred Hetzel / Davidson College / 4 times, Dave Robinson / Navy / 4 times, Dave Bing / Syracuse / 3 times, Michael Beasley / Kansas State / 3 times, Adrian Dantley / Notre Dame / 3 times, Kenny Carr / Nc State / 3times, Jerry Chambers / Utah / 3 times, Will Jones / American U./ 2 times, Greg Sanders / St Bonnies / 2 times, Bob Lewis / North Carolina /2 times, Scottie Reynolds / Villanova / 2 times, Danny Ferry / Duke / 1 time, Bob Whitmore / Notre Dame / 1 time, Collis Jones / Notre Dame / 1 time, Jeff Covington / Youngstown State / 1 time, Randolph Childress / Wake Forest / 1 time, Ronnie Hogue / Georgia / 1 time, Eugene Oliver / South Alabama / 1 time, Carlos Yates / George Mason / 1 time, Monte Williams / Norte Dame / 1 time, Hawkeye Whitney / Nc. State / 1 time, Lenny Bias / Maryland U / 1 time, David Hawkins / Temple / 1 time, Kermit Washington / American / 1 time, Skeeter Swift / East Tenn.State / 1 time NBA Rookie of Year: Elgin Baylor- Spingarn, Dave Bing- Spingarn, Adrian Dantley- DeMatha, Dave Robinson- Woodbridge, Grant Hill- South Lake, Steve Francis-, Kevin Durant- Montrose Christian NBA Hall Of Fame: Earl Lloyd, Dallas Shirley, Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Morgan Wooten, John Thompson Sr., Adrian Dantley Assist Club: Sherman Douglas - Syracuse U. / 22 assist, Kelvin Scarborough - New Mexico / 21 assists, Grayson Marshall - Clemson U. / 20 assists, Jan Panell - Oklahoma U. / 18 assists, Sidney Lowe - N.C. State / 18 assists, Brian Ellerbe - Rutgers U. / 16 assists, Charlie Smith - Georgetown U. / 16 assists, Jay Gallagher - Mount St. Mary’s / 15 assists, Penny Greene - U. of South Florida / 15 assists, Moochie Norris - West Florida / 15 assists, Harold Fox - Jacksonville U. / 14 assists, Stan Washington - San Diego / 14 assists, Toney Ellis - Colorado / 13 assists, Cricket Williams - Jacksonville U. / 13 assists, Michael Jackson - Georgetown / 13 assists, John Duren - Georgetown / 13 assists, Steve Francis - Maryland / 13 assists, Eddie Jordan - Rutgers / 13 assists, Tom Amaker - Duke / 13 assists
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