Late Monday night in Seattle, John Thompson gathered his Georgetown Hoyas around him and told his new NCAA champions where he hoped they would direct some of their thoughts in their hour of joy.
"There were a helluva lot of players who came before you who are not in this locker room tonight, but who helped make this possible," Thompson said he told his players, thinking of many a Merlin Wilson and Craig Shelton, Derrick Jackson and Tommy Scates. "Don't forget all the people who got this program where it is now."
On Friday afternoon, after nearly a week of celebration following the Hoyas' 84-75 victory over Houston Monday night, the same notion was at the core of Thompson's emotions as he prepared to attend the team's basketball banquet.
"We didn't win the national championship in 1984," said Thompson. "We started winning it back in 1966 at St. Anthony's (High School). You don't just hatch into the championship game. We worked like hell for a long time, worked through trial and error. I made 50 million mistakes.
"People in Seattle asked me, 'Did you give any thought to (this or that) . . . ' and I felt like laughing. Over those years, I've given thought to everything about basketball that you can dream up."
But, mostly, he thought about the past and how, in his case, it has defined the present.
To many basketball fans, the Hoyas are a phenomenon of the Patrick Ewing era, a team that only became visible in the last three seasons. To them, Thompson's squad may represent a blend of enormous talent and equally remarkable discipline and team spirit. To some, Georgetown also may represent "Hoya Paranoia" and intimidation bordering on the unsportsmanlike.
However, to those who have watched Thompson's program closely from the beginning--and even before the beginning, when he was at St. Anthony's--the Georgetown story has the sort of inevitability and thematic unity that one expects in fiction, not in life.
"The people who know me and know the program realize almost nothing has changed in 12 years," says Thompson.
Memory and the public record support him. Few men's actions and impact on those around them have been as consistent, as based in a fully formed view of the world and as ruled by principle (critics might say stubbornness) as Thompson's.
To appreciate the Hoyas' glories and aggravations this season, it is essential to measure the present against that past, starting with Thompson's first 12-14 season in 1972-73.
Perhaps the most intense conflict in Thompson during his dozen Hilltop years has been his desire to have it all: glory with wisdom, fame with morals, respect with affection. Thompson has always wanted to preach and take up the collection, too.
"This (win) will do me the most good psychologically," says Thompson. "It will free me in some ways. A national championship was something I was obsessed with. It was something I selfishly and personally wanted to do. I wanted it very badly.
"I told my players all year that I had won every championship possible in basketball except one. I was on championship teams in junior high and high school (Carroll). We won the NIT when I was at Providence. The Celtics won the NBA title. I coached high school champions. I was an assistant coach for the (gold medal '76 U.S.) Olympic team.
"After the Houston (title) game, one of my players came over and said, 'Coach, you finally got that last one.'
" . . . Now I have the period that ends all sentences: 'I won the NCAA.' "
Thompson will also now admit, for the first time, that the presence of Ewing has been a special burden for them both.
"I also did not want it thrown in Patrick's face forever that he never won an NCAA title. I have so many things thrown up in mine, but I'm used to it. They say, 'Ralph (Sampson) never won the championship.' And Akeem (Olajuwon of Houston) may end up hearing that, too. Well, Patrick deserves that title because he exemplifies what an athlete should be. It would have been a tremendous injustice if he hadn't gotten one. And I would have felt very bad because I am the pilot . . .
"I saw Patrick play as a sophomore in high school when I went to Boston to see a player named Little. I wasn't even sure of Patrick's name, but I told (former assistant) Billy Stein, 'Get me him and I'll win the national championship.' . . . If you recruit a player like Patrick, you definitely feel that, in his four years, you should be able to win a title. And he has a chance to win another one."
Thompson has always felt that troubling pressure to win. Part of it is his personal makeup. There is also a deeply racial reason. From the day that infamous sign ("Thompson the Nigger Flop Must Go") was stuck through the McDonough Gym window during a game in 1975, the controversial and outspoken Thompson has been doubly aware of how many enemies would love to see him fail.
"When people congratulate me on being the first black coach to win a national title, I don't know exactly how to feel. This is a sport that's been dominated by blacks. So what does it tell you that I'm the first black coach to win the NCAA? That I'm the first black coach smart enough? Don't try to sell me that. Don't expect me to say, 'Thank you, I'm honored,' when people bring up that 'first black . . . '
"But, in another sense, I am very proud to be the 'first black coach.' I was at the barber shop down by the bus terminal, what I call the car barn, in Northeast today and the drivers just emptied out coming over to congratulate me. I'm not an idiot. I know why they were so happy. A lot of it was because I was black.
"I have to guard myself against not enjoying things like that. I have to tell myself to make sure we all enjoy this as much as we should. You know me, always looking for the pessimistic side."
As has always been the case since 1972, when he first put freshmen off limits to the media and began setting up screening measures to limit and even shape interviews, Thompson's players have been difficult to portray.
In particular, an old question is on the front burner again: Do Georgetown players ever have fun?
"When we're alone we talk a lot of foolishness," says Thompson. "We'll laugh and say, 'We did it. We showed 'em.' That's our non-public image."
Thompson said that after the Hoyas beat Kentucky, his players poked some private fun at the so-called Twin Towers. "But you don't broadcast that and hurt the feelings of great players like (Sam) Bowie and (Melvin) Turpin. That's just fun behind closed doors."
To the sporting nation at large, the Hoyas seem to have become symbols of one controversy after another this season.
To those close to Georgetown, all the issues seem naggingly familiar. For instance, every Hoya power player under Thompson--from Wilson to Scates to Shelton--has played with flying elbows and some intimidation.
Thompson played that way as an all-America; his hero, Bill Russell, broke a couple of jaws in the NBA. The only time Thompson is unhappy is when he doesn't have a center who runs the risk of being called a bruiser.
"We did have an aggressive team this year, maybe too aggressive a few times...Freshmen still have things to learn, especially Michael Graham. He's a lot more aware of certain things than he was at the beginning of the year, and he'll get better in those areas. But I'm not afraid of a young player making mistakes. And I don't want to change an aggressive young player's game too much and take away his competitiveness . . . I did the same thing with Patrick," says Thompson of Ewing, who had a hair-trigger temper as a freshman but, for the most part, since has joined the mainstream of the college game.
Thompson also is defiantly oblivious to the needs and demands of the national sporting press. As he's always been.
"The problem now is that a lot more people can be inconvenienced by the way I am," says Thompson. "This has been given a special significance that it just doesn't have. It isn't only the media that I keep off my players backs. It's everybody, including myself.
"I've limited myself in contact with my own players. I never see them until after 4 p.m. They can't come into the basketball office or gym before then. Our players have to have time for a somewhat normal college life."
Georgetown is a private university and Thompson says what he does is entirely his business. Thompson has made his own rules and then lived with the consequences. The shock is that he's applied similar standards to the major market media and to the school paper.
As for the fairly famous Brent Musburger of CBS, who criticized Thompson's strategy and the play of Michael Graham during the tournament, Thompson calls him "Musburg."
"During the SMU game, Musburg said, 'When I have a team on the run, I don't go into a delay,' " Thompson says. "Well, Musburg never had anybody on the run. He's never coached anywhere. He's never run anything, other than running his mouth.
"I've always tried to be firm in my convictions--maybe being principled and stubborn aren't too far apart--but people become stunned and shocked when you do it on a national level, not just a local level where everybody knows you already. I've bitten my tongue a helluva lot more this year than I ever have before . . . You can't always be popular and successful, too . . .
"I think I will take suggestions from people I respect. But it's true that I completely ignore the people I don't respect."
Thompson knows how to carry a grudge and isn't one to forget slights. Out of the blue he volunteers that, "I was irritated by what those (local) athletic directors said in that story in the (Washington) Post talking about how we wouldn't play them. Well, they ought to understand that you never have a successful program unless you make money. Why didn't they say, 'Thompson is a good business man?'
"All those schools had an opportunity to hire me. When I was at St. Anthony's (for six years) the only university that offered me a job was Georgetown (then 3-23) and I took it. I haven't turned down one job in Washington. Heck, I worked at Federal City College and they passed over me twice . . .
"People say, 'He's changed. He won't play the local schools now.' Well, we worked ourselves into position were we could play the people we wanted to play. I can remember when schools wouldn't give us games . . . That's the cold, cold reality of human nature."
Of all the recurrent annoyances that bother Thompson, the one he feels is most unfair, most unfounded and most hurtful is the insinuation that he is anti-white.
"If I talk a lot about race, it's because I'm asked a lot of questions about it," says Thompson, who then tells a story to make his point.
"When we were out in Spokane last month on St. Patrick's Day, I went out and I watched the parade. Those Irish people were, as my mother would have said, 'Strutting their stuff.' They were proud for one another. There was no hate in them for others and no hate from others toward them.
"I felt good for them. But I knew that blacks haven't reached the point yet where we can go out and celebrate our blackness and not have people feel threatened. When we talk about our black pride, it's often felt as anti-white. That's not it at all . . . I believe the time will come when we'll see blacks having something like that St. Patrick's Day parade and not have any hate in any direction."