Sport: A Banner Year for Meanness

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Thompson, too, is black and around 7 ft. tall. For a couple of seasons after his playing years at Providence, he backed up Bill Russell for the Boston Celtics. A few banners have stretched across Thompson's life as well. In 1975, his third year at Georgetown, this one was hoisted in the school gym: THOMPSON THE NIGGER COACH MUST GO. Last season, when Ewing and Thompson came within one basket of winning the national championship, a great deal was made of Thompson's being the first black coach to bring a team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association's final four. So much talk of color distressed him. "Ignorance has no color," Thompson says. "The point isn't that this season has been degrading to a black man. It has been degrading to any man. On the airplane last week, I asked Patrick again how he was holding up. He told me, 'I've grown accustomed to it. I got so much of it in high school.' That made me saddest of all."

Ewing's high school was Cambridge Rindge and Latin in Massachusetts, his coach a concerned man named Mike Jarvis. In a well-meaning letter that became the source of the KANT READ slurs, Jarvis explained to swarming recruiters that Ewing had lived his first twelve years in Jamaica and still spoke with an island patois that made him selfconscious. According to the letter, Ewing had learning deficiencies that would require such licenses as un-timed testing and lecture taping. "My approach was to argue against the terms of the letter," says Thompson, who insists Ewing has received no concessions of the kind requested and that he is faring well in school. "I told Patrick's father, 'Don't send your son to me to be educated and then tell me how to educate him.' " Naturally, after Ewing chose Georgetown, copies of the letter were well distributed by the losers. In any case, for the bigots in the stands, the letter is only an excuse. The grudge existed before Ewing.

Unconventional, mysterious, Ewing wears a gray T shirt under his game jersey, a shield from the cold but also an emblem of individuality. The shirt is festooned with NIKE insignias, Thompson being a consultant for that sporting-goods company, as many college coaches serve one company or another for a significant fee. Nobody looks down to question the propriety of manufacturers' logos on the socks of collegiate players, but Ewing waves the practice not only under your nose but over the rim. Unwittingly or not, he never softens anything. Says Thompson: "He has an unbelievable strength that is close to arrogant pride, but a good arrogant pride. He'll learn to hook and roll eventually, but for now he's a banger."

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