Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim: Rival Georgetown coach John Thompson ‘was an incredible presence in our game’

“Manley Field House is officially closed.”

Eric “Sleepy” Floyd had just helped Georgetown close out a 52-50 win that ended Syracuse’s 57-game winning streak at its home venue. Floyd’s free throws in the final seconds would be remembered much less than the six words Hoyas coach John Thompson uttered to the media afterward.

“The statement spoke for itself,” says longtime Hoyas radio voice Rich Chvotkin, who remembered Thompson’s words being met with near silence that Feb. 13, 1980. “Basically, when you hear something like that, you didn’t have to say anything else. ‘Let’s take some questions and …’ No. The statement spoke itself that Manley Field House is officially closed, the streak is over, we don’t have to come back to this venue again and we basically closed it out with a victory.”

Syracuse would move to the Carrier Dome the next season, a larger venue that would be needed to satiate fans’ interest in Georgetown-Syracuse. The Manley game came during the first season of the Big East Conference and would kick-start a rivalry that would rage until Thompson resigned as Georgetown’s coach in 1999.

The original Big East that formed that first season disbanded after the 2012-13 season. Sometime before that, Thompson, who died on Aug. 30 at 78, and Boeheim were nudged together by basketball Hall of Famer Dave Bing.

Georgetown's John Thompson, left, and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim talk in 1992. (Photo: Nury Hernandez, The New York Post via Getty Images)

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The pair were coaches together with Team USA during the 1988 Olympics and on the same floor when Boeheim won his national title (2003). Thompson took Georgetown to the 1984 title but needed overtime to beat Syracuse in the Big East final that year.

Boeheim offered his memories of Thompson, their ferocious rivalry and their improbable friendship during an interview with USA TODAY Sports' Stephen Borelli.

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For 15 years, we didn’t talk. We competed. Every year, all year, we thought about beating Georgetown and every year, all year, I’m sure that John thought about beating Syracuse. It was a very tough, almost brutal rivalry. I mean, it was everything you could ever ask for in a physical rivalry. We went at it as hard as you could go after it and we always shook hands afterward. Eventually, we talked things out. We still wanted to win every time we played, but we became friendly, we started talking more on the recruiting trail or at a conference or at the Final Four. He actually invited me to be on his (1988) Olympic workout staff at Colorado Springs when he had the Olympic team so we had come a long ways. And, at the end, we were really good friends.

He has a great sense of humor. Every year I’d see him, he’d just give me a hug, bear hug, and say something nasty about Syracuse, and I’d say something nasty about Georgetown, but we didn’t mean it anymore. That rivalry endured to the end. It was bigger with John there. It’s not the same. In Syracuse, 32,000 people wanted to see John Thompson come in the building. The game here when John got tossed out (in 1990) was the loudest I’ve ever heard when he left the building. Obviously the games were great, but they wanted to see John Thompson come in the building. I don’t know of any fan that ever went to see any coach, but they went to see John and you know, that when we won in 2003, I shook hands with Roy Williams, then I turned around, and there was John Thompson. He did the radio, he was sitting there by the Kansas bench. So it was ironic that that would be that way.

Everybody says their team plays hard but Georgetown played harder than everybody at that stage. And I think a lot of coaches have tried to duplicate that, for sure. He meant, I believe, more to the game of basketball than any coach. I mean, he was a great coach — great defense, he built the program out of nothing — but he really modeled for a lot of coaches, young coaches and not Black coaches only, white and Black coaches. P.J. Carlesimo really benefited, I think, from John Thompson. John talked to him a lot when he was struggling at Seton Hall. John made the whole Big East, which was obviously a new league, play up to a higher standard. Either play up to a higher standard or you’re gonna get rolled over. So I think he really helped Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino and P.J. Carlesimo and Jay Wright, Gary Williams, a lot of guys who are in the Hall of Fame or are gonna be in the Hall of Fame. And you had to play up to that standard that Georgetown set. But if you didn’t, you were gonna get run over.

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