September 02, 2020

Ray Flynn ’63 remembers teammate and friend John Thompson ’64

By Ray Flynn ’63 & ’84Hon. 

Hearing the news about the passing of the legendary basketball coach of Georgetown University, my teammate and friend, John Thompson ’64, brought back many fond and lasting memories.  

Certainly our days at Providence College on and off the basketball court, whether it was Madison Square Garden in New York City or in San Francisco, were games that generated a tremendous amount of national interest. In those days, many of the big games were broadcast on a major television network. Providence College won the National Invitational Tournament two out of three years [1961 and 1963] and was ranked in the top three teams in the country. 

John Thompson ’64, a First-Team All-American at PC his senior year, and Ray Flynn ’63 led the Friars to the 1963 NIT title.
John Thompson ’64, a First-Team All-American at PC his senior year, and Ray Flynn ’63 led the Friars to the 1963 NIT title.

Beginning with Lenny Wilkens ’60 and John Egan ’61, “The Friars” recruited some of the best high school athletes in the country. For a relatively small college, Providence College was developing quite a reputation as a great academic institution with its renowned coach in the person of former Holy Cross and Boston Celtics great Joe Mullaney ’65Hon. & ’98Hon., who later became coach of the Los Angeles Lakers with Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West. 

Mullaney was well liked and respected in the sports world, so he usually had the inside track in recruiting top players from across the nation. The PC alumni were tremendously loyal and supported the team wherever they played.  

John Thompson, from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., was one of the most sought-after high school basketball players in the country — largely because he was also an outstanding student. When we played Georgetown University in D.C., our president was Father Slavin [Rev. Robert J. Slavin, O.P., PC’s sixth president, from 1947-1961], who was born a couple of streets from where I was born in the Polish Triangle on the South Boston-Dorchester line and was a family friend of then U.S. President John F. Kennedy.  

Thompson was a gentleman on and off the court, and I will never forget that soon after we won the NIT in 1963 in New York City and I was voted the most valuable player in the tourney, he asked me if I would speak at a Boys Club event in D.C., and talk to a couple of hundred kids about the importance of studying and staying out of trouble. This was his dream after playing pro basketball — helping poor kids. 

I invited him to my home in South Boston several times, and he loved eating my mother’s cheeseburgers and Irish bread. A couple of years later, when I was in the U.S. Army and John was playing for the Boston Celtics, my mother called me up and told me that my friend, John Thompson, had dropped by the house before the Celtics’ game at the Garden. He brought an apple pie, and Mom cooked him his favorite Irish bread and cheeseburgers.  

My friends at The Bay View Pub in Southie also loved talking to him, and he loved talking to Joe “We love you Cuz” Dillon, who was the guy who was credited as shouting out from the Boston Garden balcony at the historic Bob Cousy Tribute event. As is often said, sports brings diverse people together. 

After the NCAA championship game in New Orleans in 1992 between Georgetown and North Carolina with Michael Jordan, which Georgetown lost in a heartbreaker, John said to me, “I wish I was having some cheeseburgers and Irish bread now in Boston.” 

Ray Flynn was the captain of the 1963 NIT champion Providence College Friars. He served as mayor of Boston from 1984-1993 and as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See from 1993-1997.