There is a scene in the movie “Dead Poets Society” where the students are asked to stand upon their desks to gain a different perspective of the world. I stood on my desk reading the late John Thompson’s autobiography, “I Came as a Shadow.” Being a college basketball fan, I was very familiar with Thompson as he coached the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team to national prominence. I admit I was never a fan of his coaching style or some of his social stands, but I certainly respected how his team played. Georgetown was notorious for its pressure defense and aggressive style of play. The Hoyas never considered backing down from a confrontation and always competed with intensity.
After reading “I Came as a Shadow,” I feel I have a better grasp of the why behind Thompson’s behaviors. His reputation was one of a bully to all in his path. However, the adage we are all the sum total of our experiences certainly applies to Thompson. His upbringing was in a hard-working family where both mother and father devoted themselves to providing for the kids. Coupled with dealing with racial bias in sports and school merged to foster a coach dedicated to providing opportunities to those from a background similar to his. Thompson was a demanding coach, both on and off the court. He wanted his players to graduate. He wanted his players to represent Georgetown University positively. He wanted them to steer clear of the troubles prevalent in the urban areas. When 44 out of 46 players that stayed for four years obtain the degrees, you have to give Thompson the kudos for a job well done.
Thompson does not mince words when it comes to race relations, the NCAA, coaching Allen Iverson, his relationship with Dean Smith, and other topics both inside and outside of the sporting world. This book is both enlightening and entertaining. I highly recommend it to all interested in learning more about a coaching icon.