On Monday, we all got the sad news of John Thompson passing away at the age of 78-years-old. What many people might now know is that he should’ve very well lost his life some 19 years ago, if not for a radio producer.
The former Georgetown head coach was was initially supposed to be on a flight that crashed during the terrorist attack. He was scheduled to be on American Airlines Flight 77 to Los Angeles from Washington D.C, and was also planning to be in Las Vegas to celebrate a friend’s birthday on Sept. 13, but he wanted to get out there earlier to avoid any potential issues with his travel. While setting up the travel plans with the friend, Thompson was asked to appear on Jim Rome’s television show in Los Angeles on Sept. 11. The plan was for Thompson to take the flight to Los Angeles to do the show and then take another flight to Las Vegas that same day.
A few days before the interview, Thompson was asked if they could push his appearance back another day. Despite not wanting to do that, Thompson eventually gave in and agreed to move the flight back.
New York City radio producer Eamonn Brennan explained in a 2011 ESPN story:
“Thompson wanted to be able to do the interview and still make a friend’s birthday party in Las Vegas on September 13, so he booked a ticket on American Airlines Flight 77 departing on September 11,” Brennan explained. “That didn’t work for the show, whose producer, Danny Schwartz, asked Thompson to instead push his flight back to September 12. Thompson didn’t like the change, and he told Schwartz as much. Schwartz persisted. Thompson relented.”
Flight 77 never made it to its destination and crashed into the Pentagon. Thompson literally felt the plane’s impact in his home that morning.
The coaching legend lived for 19 more years before passing away on August 31, 2020.
There was no immediate cause of death announced.
His family later released a statement.
“We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr. Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on, but most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else. However, for us, his greatest legacy remains as a father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. More than a coach, he was our foundation. More than a legend, he was the voice in our ear everyday. We will miss him but are grounded in the assurance that we carry his faith and determination in us. We will cherish forever his strength, courage, wisdom and boldness, as well as his unfailing love. We know that he will be deeply missed by many and our family appreciates your condolences and prayers. But don’t worry about him, because as he always liked to say, ‘….”Big Ace’” is cool.”
Thompson led Georgetown to a national championship in 1984 with a nine-point victory over Houston.