Fathers and Sons
Sunday, March 25, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 24 -- When the Georgetown men's basketball team faces North Carolina on Sunday evening for a spot in its first Final Four since 1985, the two men most responsible for that 22-year-old achievement will be watching. Patrick Ewing Sr., the greatest player in school history, will contort his 7-foot frame into a cushioned folding chair in the stands, and his former coach, John Thompson Jr., will provide commentary on CBS Radio.
But Thompson's professional obligations aside, the two men will be here as fathers first, athletic legends second. Georgetown's basketball renaissance has been cultivated by a coach named John Thompson with help from a player named Patrick Ewing, Hoyas of a new generation.
For the fathers, adjusting to their new roles is not always easy. Over the first 11 games of the season, Ewing Jr. averaged only 8.6 minutes of play per game. In four of those games, he didn't attempt a single shot. He wasn't bothered by his role, but his father was.
"It was frustrating for me," said Ewing Sr., who stepped down from his assistant coach position with the Houston Rockets to watch his son play this season. "Big John called me and said, 'Let him have the relationship with his coach that your mother and father let you have with me.' But it was hard to sit here and see him not playing."
John Thompson Jr., meantime, said he tries not to dole out advice, coach-to-coach, to his son, John Thompson III. But father-to-son, well, that's different. "The father has the right and license to meddle anytime he wants to," Thompson Jr. said.
Both Ewing Jr. and Thompson III have grown used to answering questions about playing and coaching at the school made famous by their fathers, particularly over the past few weeks as the Hoyas have won game after game. Thompson III doesn't measure himself as a coach against his father, who won 596 games and built Georgetown into a national power. Ewing Jr. doesn't compare himself to his father, who was a three-time all-American.
"I'm not expected to do anything like he did," Ewing Jr. said before the season began. "I'm not him. We're two different people, two different positions, two different games, two different styles of play. Two different genres of basketball, to be honest with you. That was 20 years ago."
Thompson III, who played and coached at Princeton, said he learned the game as much from that school's basketball patriarch, Pete Carril, as from his father. "I'm not trying to get out of my father's shadow," he said. "I love the fact that he was here. I love the fact that he's around here."
Thompson III said he and Ewing have discussed their famous dads. "I don't think he's trying to get out of his father's shadow. I know he loves the fact that his father has been around and seen him play a lot this year," Thompson III said. "If we were to stay in their shadows, that's fine with me. Fine with me."
Ewing Jr. didn't wear his father's iconic number 33 when he played at Indiana, but he had no problem taking it when he signed on with Georgetown. When the Hoyas played in the Big East Conference tournament earlier this month at Madison Square Garden, where Ewing Sr. starred professionally with the New York Knicks, Ewing Jr. made a point of taking his father's old stall in the locker room.
Television cameras will undoubtedly turn to Ewing Sr. and Thompson Jr. throughout Sunday's game, just as they did during the Big East tournament. Joining them will be Glenn "Doc" Rivers, a teammate of Ewing Sr. with the New York Knicks and the current coach of the Boston Celtics, who will be watching his son, Georgetown freshman guard Jeremiah Rivers.
Rivers's situation is slightly different from that of Ewing Jr. and Thompson III. He is not playing where his father once did; he does not share his first name. In high school, Rivers wore an armband that had his name and number -- his father's 25, the same number that all of his siblings wore as well -- stitched on it. But at Georgetown, Rivers chose number 5, to represent himself and the player he tries to pattern his game after: New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd.
"Twenty-five was my number, out of respect for my dad and everything he's done for my family," said Rivers, a reserve guard. "But going to college, it's kind of like I'm on my own now. It's like my own identity has got to be made."
For his part, Thompson Jr. said he feels privileged to watch his son coach the school team he took to greatness. "I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be in a position to not only have done something and enjoyed doing it, but to watch my own [son] do it, and enjoy doing it themselves," he said.
Ewing Sr. said he learned something watching the way his son was coached this season. "I know what he is capable of doing," Ewing Sr. said. "I think it was all for the best. He sat and learned and became patient."
At the Big East tournament, Thompson Jr. and Ewing Sr. sat behind the Georgetown bench. Toward the end of the Hoyas' win over Pittsburgh in the championship game, Thompson III waved to his father in the crowd.
"He was yelling something at me for the prior two minutes and I couldn't hear what he said," Thompson III explained in the postgame news conference. "I finally turned around and said, 'For the first time in your life, you can't talk loud enough that I can hear what the hell you are saying.' "