John Thompson, who made history as the first black coach to win a US national college basketball championship when he led Georgetown to the title in 1984, has died, his family said Monday. He was 78.
Thompson, who played a pioneering role in advancing black coaches, also helped develop the careers of several NBA stars including current Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson.
Iverson, an 11-time All-Star, was among those who paid tribute to Thompson on Monday.
"Thanks For Saving My Life Coach," Iverson wrote on Twitter. "I'm going to miss you, but I'm sure that you are looking down on us with a big smile."
Thompson's family meanwhile paid tribute to Thompson as a "historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else."
"We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of our father, John Thompson, Jr," the family said in a statement released by Georgetown.
"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.
"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."
Thompson began coaching after a successful NBA career which included championships in 1965 and 1966 with the Boston Celtics where he backed up the legendary Bill Russell.
Thompson, who led Georgetown to three final fours in the 1980s and also coached the United States at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
As well as helping to change perceptions of minority coaches, he also fought for the rights of minority athletes.
In 1989 he walked off court to protest a rule change from US college sports chiefs preventing students from receiving scholarships if they had not met required academic entry standards.
"I did it to bring attention to the issue in hopes of getting (National Collegiate Athletic Association members) to take another look at what they've done, and if they feel it unjust, change the rule," he said at the time.