Sports world mourns death of John Thompson, but if not for fate, he would’ve likely died in Sept. 11 attacks

Hall of Fame coach passed away Monday at age 78, but luck allowed him to live 19 years longer

Former Georgetown Hoyas head coach John Thompson Jr. looks on before a college basketball game between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Butler Bulldogs at the Capital One Arena on February 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton) (Getty Images)

On Monday, the sports world rightfully mourned the death of John Thompson, a Hall of Fame basketball coach who led Georgetown to the 1984 NCAA title, becoming the first black coach to win an NCAA championship.

Thompson was also a prominent voice for civil and social rights issues during his coaching career.

But while the world is sad over Thompson’s passing, he at least had 19 more years of living after nearly dying during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Thompson was set to be on American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles in order to make an in-studio appearance on Jim Rome’s radio show, according to ESPN.

But Rome’s producer, Danny Schwartz, asked that he fly out a day later to accommodate the show’s schedule.

Thompson told Schwartz that wouldn’t work and he was unhappy at the suggestion, but after Schwartz insisted, Thompson changed his flight.

On Sept. 11, Thompson ended up feeling the impact of Flight 77 when it was hijacked by terrorists and crashed at the Pentagon, which was close to Thompson’s home.

Ten years after that day, Thompson went on Rome’s radio show to reminisce, starting with a message Thompson’s assistant relayed to him.

“You were supposed to be on that plane,” Thompson said of what his assistant told him. “If that kid hadn’t talked you out of it, you would’ve been on that plane. The strangest thing about it was, it’s hard to be elated about all of it because of what happened. I’m appreciative. I went out on my porch, smoked a cigar, said my prayers … but at the same time, you can’t be too jubilant about it.”

Later in that interview, Rome put Schwartz and Thompson on the phone together.

“Let me tell you something, if you’re ever in Washington, D.C., you look me up,” Thompson told Schwartz. “I was antagonistic in those days, and how you handled it saved my life, and I appreciate that.”

Thompson died Monday at the age of 78.

Sports figures around the world are sad at his passing, but thankful that the world got nearly two decades more of Thompson and his Hall of Fame presence here on Earth.

Photo by Focus on Sport. (Getty Images)
Allen Iverson #3 and John Thompson, head coach of Georgetown Hoyas during a time out of a basketball game at Capital Centre on December 1, 1994 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton) (Getty Images)

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.