"We all have God complexes, and think we're the ones who can make people do something or motivate them to see the light. That's all we tried to do with him."
-- John Thompson on Michael Graham
In return for being offered the chance for what could have been a life-altering experience at one of the nation's elite universities, Michael Graham gave Georgetown what it coveted: the 1984 NCAA basketball championship.
A fair-enough tradeoff.
Thompson argues otherwise, that the Hoyas could have won in Seattle without Graham's menacing presence at power forward, that "if we go with one individual, Patrick Ewing caused us to win . . . "
The coach calls Graham "a" major contributor; I call him the major contributor after Ewing. Against two exceptionally physical teams -- Kentucky and Houston -- in the final four, Graham averaged 29 minutes, 11 points and six rebounds.
I say Graham never would have gotten within a cab ride of a Georgetown classroom unless Thompson figured he was the final force necessary for the national championship.
I say that without Graham last season Georgetown was no better than one of the 16 best teams in the country. (That was a good year for intimidation, what with the Raiders winning the Super Bowl, the Celtics winning the NBA title and the Hoyas the NCAAs.)
Three things Thompson knew in the summer of '83: Graham's reputation, his evident distaste for scholarship and that the Hoyas were mighty weak up front.
That's when Thompson's "God complex" surfaced. I say Thompson took the same calculated risk that Jim Valvano took this year with Chris Washburn, that Lefty Driesell took years ago with Moses Malone, that Dean Smith took with his only junior-college transfer, Bob McAdoo, and that The Wizard himself, John Wooden, took ever so many times.
Rarely does a school win the NCAA title without significant academic or off-court compromises. Or without a coach whose passion for victory does not frequently drown his instincts.
John Thompson is a great coach.
John Thompson is a good man.
John Thompson ain't God.
The legion of Thompson detractors are acting smug now that Graham has left Georgetown. The whispers when he arrived were that he could not possibly survive academically, that the Hoyas had bent too far this time.
But if John Thompson ain't God, neither am I. What I do know is that just about every other coach with Thompson's needs and ambition also would have taken Graham.
I suspect that many of them would have directed Graham toward the cupcake courses vital to keeping him eligible all four years.
With the much-matured Billy Martin and capable freshman Grady Mateen as complements to Ewing inside, Thompson also has the best team in the country this season without Graham.
"What failed?" Thompson also said to The Post's Michael Wilbon. "I don't know. Talk to him and you get the impression that he's going to make the commitment . . .
"It's very different in that he possesses the intelligence and the ability. It's a matter of him using the intelligence that he has . . . He has never been a bum, a hoodlum or any of that stuff . . . "
Michael, the next person inside your head had better be you. Almost 22, it's time you decided what you want and how to go about getting it. You're a terrific player but, as the Hoyas have shown, not close to indispensable.
If it's basketball that gives you joy, turn pro this spring. Pass on college. Lots of us nonjocks were no more motivated in college than you, but slid by and managed to graduate because it was the socially acceptable path to peace and prosperity.
If The Post had come calling my junior year at Penn State and offered decent money to string nouns and verbs and thoughts together in an entertaining way, I'd have taken it.
Many of the prominent players in the NBA do not have degrees. This neither means they are somehow flawed nor that their colleges treated them unfairly.
Everybody gives; everybody takes.
"There's a bigger eligibility (Graham) has to face," Thompson said. "I tried to make him understand and see that."
Better look hard and quickly, Michael. Even a body as beautifully suited for basketball as yours stays pro-hard only a short while. Being big has nothing to do with standing tall.
The two best high school players I ever saw in person, Simmie Hill and Harold Fox, lasted only briefly in the pros. Hill played four seasons in the ABA, Fox one for NBA Buffalo.
If the choice is basketball and life after basketball, Michael, hustle over to UDC. Or anywhere else that offers a meaningful degree and a challenge on the court.
"We're not talking about the end of his life," Thompson observed.
Of course Thompson and Georgetown used Graham. Played him like the even-larger Ewing stick they raise to force their will on other teams and television.
It's sad, although predictable, that Graham couldn't use Georgetown.