Phoenix Suns head coach, Monty Williams, was heartbroken by the news of the death of one of his heroes, John Thompson Jr.
John Thompson never coached Monty Williams, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t strongly influence the life of the Virginia-born baller. The way Williams explains it in an emotional outpour to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, he likely wouldn’t be the coach of the Phoenix Suns right now if it wasn’t for John Thompson.
The way Williams explains it:
“You had to come from Maryland and D.C. and Prince George’s County to know what Coach Thompson meant to us.
“I wouldn’t be here without John Thompson. He was a hero for us. We had our parents, and we had Len Bias, and Len died. And then we had John Thompson.
“He was the first, along with Coach [John] Chaney, who stood up and said, ‘That’s wrong.’ They were offended when people tried to put them into a different class, and it gave me confidence to not put up with stuff that I knew was wrong.
“He taught Black kids to believe that they were valuable, and the athletes among us then knew that he was talking about us too.
He was like Moses to me.”
Monty Williams wouldn’t be the Phoenix Suns coach if not for John Thompson.
Williams was born and raised in Fredricksburg, Virginia, which is about an hour outside of Washington, D.C. He used to watch Georgetown games on black and white television and dreamed of one day playing under Coach Thompson.
Unfortunately, Williams’ Georgetown scholarship offer never came, as Coach Thompson offered the star of Williams’ rival school instead. Still, the respect Thompson had earned stayed with Williams, who would go on to play his college ball at Notre Dame.
Several coaches in the playoffs have been wearing a towel on their shoulder, the emblematic look of Coach Thompson, as a show of honor. If the Phoenix Suns were still in the playoffs, there is no doubt Coach Williams would be doing the same thing.
“Big John” Thompson passed away Sunday at the age of 78, but his influence will live on through many players and coaches like Monty Williams who, even though they may not have been directly under his tutelage, instill his teachings of tough love and high standards.