Over the years, John Thompson Jr.’s meeting with drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III had become the stuff of legend.
In 1989, the Georgetown coach famously requested a meeting with the D.C. gangster and told him to stay away from his players. The tale was commonly cited as an example of the coach’s courage and moral authority — and was one of the first stories retold when the coach died in August.
In his new autobiography — published Tuesday, months after his death — Thompson talks about how the conversation really went.
In an excerpt of “I Came As a Shadow” published on ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” Thompson wrote that his meeting with Edmond wasn’t nearly as dramatic as was often portrayed.
“A myth has grown about me threatening Rayful and ordering him to stay away from my players,” Thompson wrote. “Some people like to say I stood over him and pointed my finger in his face. That’s nonsense. Why would I threaten someone who could bring down my whole program?
“That myth is based on the perception of me as intimidating and a bully. Like when I argued with the refs, I supposedly scared them. When I met with Rayful, the thinking goes, I had to threaten him. I’ve always been offended when some people assume our interaction had a physical component. They don’t want to give me credit for the fact that Rayful respected me.”
Thompson wrote that he was able to have a respectful conversation with Edmond, who had been seen around star freshman Alonzo Mourning and John Turner. Edmond showed up to Thompson’s office wearing a polo shirt and was “dressed neatly,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson added that he specifically avoided the topic of drugs with Edmond — “I didn’t want him to think I was setting him up or secretly taping him,” he said. —and focused on why the 23-year-old was hanging around the two.
Edmond, he wrote, said that nothing nefarious happened, just that they had been playing basketball, grabbing food and hanging out.
But Thompson said he realized that even the perception of a relationship with the drug dealer could be damaging for his players, so he asked Edmond to keep his distance.
Edmond told Thompson that he didn’t have anything to worry about with Mourning, though he told the coach that Turner was “attracted to that lifestyle.” Still, Thompson wrote that Edmond “was cooperative.”
Thompson also revealed details of how the meeting came to be. He wrote that they knew someone — former Division II player, Clarence “Bootney” Green — in common and arranged for Edmond to come to Thompson’s office. Thompson had Edmond show up mid-practice as a way to alert his players. “You never saw so many airballs in your life,” he wrote.
Thompson explained his approach to the conversation, as well. He admitted he couldn’t control Edmond and had “very little leverage.” He knew that Edmond could cause problems for him if that’s what the kingpin wanted. He called the situation a “stressful moment,” having to play it carefully. But the two, he said, had a level of respect for each other that helped.
Months after their one-on-one talk, Edmond was arrested on federal charges in a large drug bust. Edmond was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today. In 1996, he became a confidential informant for the government in exchange for his mother, who had been convicted for participating in Edmond’s drug ring, to receive a reduced sentence.
Last year, he appeared in a District court to request an early release from prison, citing his cooperation with authorities.
“I didn’t respect or condone selling drugs,” Thompson wrote, “and I was probably a bit naïve about the extent of his activities when we first met. … Still, I didn’t look down on him as a human being. I didn’t want to judge him, and I still don’t. As a Black kid growing up in his neighborhood, his opportunities were limited, which inevitably affected the choices he made.”
Thompson, whose 352-page autobiography ($29.99) with co-writer Jesse Washington can be found readily in most bookstores and online, wrote that he never feared for his own safety. He was just trying to protect his players.
“My conversation with Rayful was less than what everybody said, and also more,” Thompson wrote. “It wasn’t like meeting some outlaw in the woods. I thought of Rayful as my neighbor’s child, who was exposing my kids to some trouble. I wanted to protect my players, my university, and myself. The conversation was between two Black men from Washington who both loved basketball, respected each other as human beings, and had enough intelligence to work out a solution to our problem.”