THE JOHN Thompson most of the world (or at least most of the basketball-conscious world) knows is one of the country's preeminent sports figures, the coach who took over Georgetown University's rinky-dink basketball program in the early '70s and soon had it up among the best. The John Thompson our city knows is that and a bit more: he is also the native Washingtonian, the tall, skinny kid we remember from more than 30 years ago playing alongside Monk Malloy, Tom Hoover and George Leftwich on that John Carroll High School team that won the city championship. The first John Thompson has received a lucrative, hard-to-refuse offer from Denver's professional basketball team. The second -- the man whose ties to his community go back nearly 50 years -- is said to be having doubts about whether he should accept it. Acknowledging our home-town prejudice, we hope he doesn't.
John Thompson is of the sort of people who anchor this transient city -- the ones who have been around awhile and give the place its continuity and sense of community. He's the local high school star who left home for college and a try at the pros and then came back to make good.
At Georgetown (and on the high school level before) he has instilled in a boys' game an adult seriousness and sense of purpose. He has shown himself to be a driven and sometimes difficult man whose methods don't make it easy for the kids on his teams. But even his detractors acknowledge the integrity of his goal, which is to show his players that true excellence is both difficult and achievable.
Most important, he has insisted on a balance of athletic and academic effort that is none too common in college basketball and that has, in Georgetown's case, produced an outstanding graduation rate. That's an important message this black coach has brought to the kids in this basketball-crazy city, and reason enough in itself for him to stick around home.