SportsPulse: Former NBA and Georgetown basketball player Jerome Williams discusses his time playing under the late John Thompson and specifically recalls a quote that changed his life.
“Manley Field House is officially closed.”
Eric “Sleepy” Floyd had just helped Georgetown close out a 52-50 win that ended Syracuse’s 57-game winning streak at its home venue. Floyd’s free throws in the final seconds would be remembered much less than the six words Hoyas coach John Thompson uttered to the media afterward.
“The statement spoke for itself,” says longtime Hoyas radio voice Rich Chvotkin, who remembered Thompson’s words being met with near silence that Feb. 13, 1980. “Basically, when you hear something like that, you didn’t have to say anything else. ‘Let’s take some questions and …’ No. The statement spoke itself that Manley Field House is officially closed, the streak is over, we don’t have to come back to this venue again and we basically closed it out with a victory.”
Syracuse would move to the Carrier Dome the next season, a larger venue that would be needed to satiate fans’ interest in Georgetown-Syracuse. The Manley game came during the first season of the Big East Conference and would kick-start a rivalry that would rage until Thompson resigned as Georgetown’s coach in 1999.
The original Big East that formed that first season disbanded after the 2012-13 season. Sometime before that, Thompson, who died on Aug. 30 at 78, and Boeheim were nudged together by basketball Hall of Famer Dave Bing.
The pair were coaches together with Team USA during the 1988 Olympics and on the same floor when Boeheim won his national title (2003). Thompson took Georgetown to the 1984 title but needed overtime to beat Syracuse in the Big East final that year.
Boeheim offered his memories of Thompson, their ferocious rivalry and their improbable friendship during an interview with USA TODAY Sports’ Stephen Borelli.
For 15 years, we didn’t talk. We competed. Every year, all year, we thought about beating Georgetown and every year, all year, I’m sure that John thought about beating Syracuse. It was a very tough, almost brutal rivalry. I mean, it was everything you could ever ask for in a physical rivalry. We went at it as hard as you could go after it and we always shook hands afterward. Eventually, we talked things out. We still wanted to win every time we played, but we became friendly, we started talking more on the recruiting trail or at a conference or at the Final Four. He actually invited me to be on his (1988) Olympic workout staff at Colorado Springs when he had the Olympic team so we had come a long ways. And, at the end, we were really good friends.
He has a great sense of humor. Every year I’d see him, he’d just give me a hug, bear hug, and say something nasty about Syracuse, and I’d say something nasty about Georgetown, but we didn’t mean it anymore. That rivalry endured to the end. It was bigger with John there. It’s not the same. In Syracuse, 32,000 people wanted to see John Thompson come in the building. The game here when John got tossed out (in 1990) was the loudest I’ve ever heard when he left the building. Obviously the games were great, but they wanted to see John Thompson come in the building. I don’t know of any fan that ever went to see any coach, but they went to see John and you know, that when we won in 2003, I shook hands with Roy Williams, then I turned around, and there was John Thompson. He did the radio, he was sitting there by the Kansas bench. So it was ironic that that would be that way.
Everybody says their team plays hard but Georgetown played harder than everybody at that stage. And I think a lot of coaches have tried to duplicate that, for sure. He meant, I believe, more to the game of basketball than any coach. I mean, he was a great coach — great defense, he built the program out of nothing — but he really modeled for a lot of coaches, young coaches and not Black coaches only, white and Black coaches. P.J. Carlesimo really benefited, I think, from John Thompson. John talked to him a lot when he was struggling at Seton Hall. John made the whole Big East, which was obviously a new league, play up to a higher standard. Either play up to a higher standard or you’re gonna get rolled over. So I think he really helped Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino and P.J. Carlesimo and Jay Wright, Gary Williams, a lot of guys who are in the Hall of Fame or are gonna be in the Hall of Fame. And you had to play up to that standard that Georgetown set. But if you didn’t, you were gonna get run over.
I think there were a lot of kids watching John Thompson on television and, definitely African-American kids, who just said, ‘Look at this guy.’ And a lot of young coaches said that. And we went from very few Black coaches in college basketball when John Thompson took over to a pretty substantial number now and he’s the reason for that. I have the utmost respect for him. He required his players to be students and to be the best basketball players they can be. He worked them very hard, he pushed them very hard. And he set a great example. He was a great model for all young players and coach.
He was always outspoken and willing to put himself on the line. And he would do it today. You know, we need people like him today that are willing to do that and he set that example. I think that’s why we’re all trying to do things today but he is a historic figure in the game of basketball. He was an incredible presence in our game and, you know, 40 years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever say those words. We probably had the biggest turnaround in relationship history. But he was a great coach and he became a great friend, but the rivalry was always there with us and that’s good, that’s a great part of sports, I think.
I never thought his teams were dirty. I thought they were overly physical, maybe, at some times, but I never thought they were dirty. They were very physical, and they would bump you. Everybody says North Carolina-Duke’s the greatest rivalry in college basketball over a long period of time. But for a 20-year period, Syracuse-Georgetown was as big as any — bigger, really, and tougher.
Two great referees that reffed Final Fours (Tim Higgins and Jim Burr) probably 10 to 12 times each, and probably six to eight national championship games between the two of them worked both ACC games and Big East games. And they said Syracuse-Georgetown’s the toughest game they ever had to work. They were great refs. I don’t know if they’d admit that today, but they said it. Can’t trust those referees.
John always shook hands. He was always good. Some guys snuck by quick, but John always shook hands and never made an excuse and, you know … I realized I was in one of the great games you’re gonna see. I used to tell our fans, “If you got to see a certain Syracuse-Georgetown game — one of ’em — you were pretty lucky.” I get to see ’em all.
Having the apt skills to play with words to put forth various updates and news relating to the field of technology in an interesting way has made Adrian is a contributor in our organization. He is dedicated to writing articles related to all the up-to-the-minute inventions, launches, updates, and much more happening in the world of technology. In his free time, Adrian offers a guest lecture to kids about the latest inventions.