What are we to make of John Thompson's revelation of a death threat to Patrick Ewing?
The coach was "very scared" at the time, but by using the incident today to illustrate a minor press-conference point he seemed to suggest he isn't much worried now. Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo said he didn't ask for extra security from the Superdome. The only tangible evidence of concern is a brawny former Hoya football player who sits on the bench, stands by the locker room door and holds a tape recorder during interviews of Ewing.
"His name is Joe," Thompson said, laughing, "and I don't feed him but every two days."
If Georgetown's words and actions suggest this is another of those bogus death threats the Yankees are always getting, one question still is baffling.
Why would Thompson talk about the affair barely 24 hours before his team plays North Carolina for the national college basketball championship? It was surprising to learn he hadn't told Ewing of the death threat; he only told the entire team of "threats," explaining why he moved eight players off campus and into a Washington motel before leaving a day early, March 9, for an NCAA game in Utah March 13.
"Because tomorrow is the last game," Thompson said to someone asking why he broke silence, "and we're going out of here."
Does all this mean Ewing would learn the specifics by reading the paper the morning of the biggest game of his career?
"I'll tell him first," Thompson said.
On first thought, the better sense would seem to be to keep quiet. If nothing has happened, most likely nothing will happen. The threatened Yankees--Dave Winfield, Rick Cerone and Lou Piniella--are at spring training. Hubert Green won the U.S. Open knowing of a death-threat call. Duke's Gene Banks, keeping a threat secret, played well in the 1978 NCAA championship game.
For Thompson to bring it up the day before 61,000 people come to the Superdome would seem to be asking for more kooks to call. Reports of death threats breed more threats. Thompson's unnecessary speech puts unusual game pressure on Ewing; an 18-year-old freshman has his hands full with two Carolina all-Americas, to say nothing of hearing the coach tell him someone called the university and asked for his room number in order to kill him.
But we should think twice about Thompson's motivation. He does nothing without good thought full of common sense. He didn't bring this up impulsively. He asked permission from his athletic director to speak of it should there be an opportunity. He wants the media to know life is no bowl of cherries; he wants us to know he may seem defensive, even (to quote him) "paranoid," but he does it for what he believes is good reason.
He made the death-threat revelation not under the pressure of prying questions. No one had a hint of it. Thompson first said Ewing was the undeserving victim of media abuse at last summer's National Sports Festival in Syracuse. Then, as to why he so assiduously protects his players on and off court, Thompson said he had a "perfect example."
Next the coach said, "There was a death threat on Patrick's life." After offering a few details, Thompson admonished the assembled media, "You ought to treat Patrick Ewing a damn sight lot better than you treated him in Syracuse."
Let's stop here and add it all up: (1) Thompson is a bright fellow, (2) who is convinced the threat is no more than the usual kook nuisance ("I've got 'em myself"), and (3) wants the media to treat Ewing fairly.
So today Thompson, it says here, made full use of the rapt attention of the national media. To gain favor for his maligned prodigy, he chose the perfect forum. The media here today will remember that a kook once threatened Patrick Ewing; they will see him as playing under great pressure in the most important game of his young life.
On the other hand, if Thompson waited until the day after the game to say all this, the impact would have been much less. If Georgetown should lose, such a story of an alleged death threat would have been dismissed as an excuse, only sour grapes.
"Someday I'll tell you why," Thompson said to one reporter after the press conference.
As for the national championship game, neither Thompson nor Dean Smith was forthcoming about tactics. So your obedient servant, after consultation with Mary Ann the Voodoo Psychic, is here to fill in the details of what will happen.
As he was the difference against Louisville, a team of super leapers with great strength, Ewing will beat North Carolina with his defensive work from the free throw line to the base line. Ralph Sampson made Sam Perkins invisible three times this season, and now Ewing will do it. James Worthy won't beat the Hoyas by himself.
North Carolina's defense is good, of course, yet the fact is the Tar Heels struggled for a 68-63 victory over a Houston team whose leading scorer missed all eight of his shots. Georgetown's Eric Floyd, only three for 11 against Louisville, will have more room against Carolina to fire up the Hoyas' offense.
With its full-court press and nine-man depth wearing down the six-deep Heels, Georgetown will build a five-point lead with eight minutes left. The Hoyas' spread offense, a variation of Smith's original four-corners, then will produce a 49-46 victory.