A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
The long-awaited autobiography from Georgetown University’s legendary coach, whose life on and off the basketball court threw America’s unresolved struggle with racial justice into sharp relief.
John Thompson was never just a basketball coach and I Came As A Shadow is categorically not just a basketball autobiography.
After five decades at the center of race and sports in America, Thompson—the iconic NCAA champion, Black activist, and educator—was ready to make the private public at last, and he completed this autobiography shortly before his death in the historically tumultuous summer of 2020. Chockful of stories and moving beyond mere stats (three Final Fours, four-time national coach of the year, seven Big East championships, 97 percent graduation rate), Thompson’s book drives us through his childhood under Jim Crow segregation to our current moment of racial reckoning. We experience riding shotgun with Celtics icon Red Auerbach and coaching NBA Hall of Famers like Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson. What were the origins of the the phrase “Hoya Paranoia”? You’ll see. And parting his veil of secrecy, Thompson brings us into his negotiation with a D.C. drug kingpin in his players’ orbit in the 1980s, as well as behind the scenes of his years on the Nike board.
Thompson’s mother was a teacher who had to clean houses because of racism in the nation's capital. His father could not read or write. Their son grew up to be a man with his own larger-than-life statue in a building that bears his family’s name on a campus once kept afloat by the selling of 272 enslaved Black people. This is a great American story, and John Thompson’s experience sheds light on many of the issues roiling our nation. In these pages, he proves himself to be the elder statesman whose final words college basketball and the country need to hear.
I Came As A Shadow is not a swan song, but a bullhorn blast from one of America’s most prominent sons.
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“Plainspoken and profound … an unusually good sports memoir … a consequential book.”
—The New York Times
“This superb book ... has been eagerly awaited for years. ... Thompson stresses the racial undercurrent that ran through his and Georgetown’s performances on the court.”
“Reminds me of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A Black man of stature, intelligence, and notoriety tells of his life in the United States. Thompson’s book, written with Jesse Washington, comments on slavery, racism, money in college sports, and education. And, as his mother, Anna, taught him as a boy, Thompson always speaks his mind.”
“In August, I offered NPR listeners an appetizer at the end of John Thompson’s life. I Came As a Shadow is the full meal. What drives you forward as a reader are the experiences. The moments you’d heard about and the ones you had not; the private thoughts of a public man; the complexity of a Black man who both raged against society’s racial injustice and eagerly embraced the opportunities to make things better; and the opinions of a person who remained relevant to the end of his life.”
“A story of hard-won mobility and triumph. … Just like its subject, I Came As a Shadow is smart, plainspoken, and principled.”
—ESPN's The Undefeated
"Every chapter will bring back a lot of great basketball memories from Thompson’s coaching days along with his playing career, his family ties, the people who inspired him and others. Washington pens a brilliant note as the co-author."
"A readable sports memoir; more importantly, a strong contribution to the ongoing discussion on race and racism."
“Coach Thompson changed my life, not through basketball but with his teachings on education and manhood. He also changed our country and the way America sees itself. He was a great coach but an even better person, and his life story has lessons for us all.”
“Coach Thompson was bigger than the game of basketball. He used his position as a leader and one of the greats of coaching to stand up for what he knew was right. I had great respect for him, as a coach and as a man. He was one of a kind and his impact will be felt for years to come.”
“I knew John Thompson for forty years. I loved the man. He was not only a great basketball coach, but an outstanding member of Nike’s Board of Directors for thirty years. His contributions came not just from his sports knowledge but more importantly from his overall wisdom. His passing leaves a large void in the life of Nike and me.”
“I Came As a Shadow is pure John Thompson—direct, honest, and uncompromising. It's the story of how his large life unfolded amidst our nation's ongoing struggle to deal honestly with race. John saw himself first and foremost as a teacher. The lessons he leaves behind with this, his final gift to us, are more important than ever.”
—President Bill Clinton
“No one had a larger impact on college basketball. John built a program at Georgetown that was second to none. He was an incredibly strong person who always put his players first and fought for them at every turn. Repeatedly, I was amazed at his passion for doing what is right, even when unpopular and no one was looking…. John was a one-of-a-kind leader and an absolute treasure.”
“One of the truly remarkable, complex, brilliant, committed, courageous, fascinating men ever.”
“Thanks for saving my life, Coach.”