If a Mount Rushmore of Marquette basketball were ever to be constructed, George Thompson would be one of the faces etched in stone.
Thompson, one of the most prolific scorers in MU’s history, died from complications of diabetes, the school announced on Wednesday. He was 74.
Thompson was one of legendary MU head coach Al McGuire’s first signature recruits from New York, with the Brooklyn-born player from Erasmus Hall High School arriving on campus in 1965. That helped open the NYC-to-Milwaukee pipeline that led to standout guards like Dean Meminger and Butch Lee.
“The hardest part to understand, especially for younger people, is just how incredibly good he was,” said Steve “Homer” True, who broadcast MU games alongside Thompson. “It’s hard to explain that to people. It’s like Don Hutson or Don Kojis at Marquette, there’s just not that many people around anymore.
“He was the same age as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and they were the two superstars in New York City. He was at the public school and Lew Alcindor (as Abdul-Jabbar was known then) was at the private school.”
The 6-foot-2 guard, known as “Brute Force,” scored 1,773 points in three seasons for the then-Warriors from 1966-69. The NCAA did not allow freshmen to play on the varsity during Thompson’s era.
“He was ahead of his time playing basketball,” Thompson’s friend and former teammate Bob Piercy said. “Al got him here. You never knew what George was going to do in the air. He used his body better than any one I know.”
Thompson held the program scoring record until it was broken by Jerel McNeal in 2009. Markus Howard now owns the MU mark at 2,761 points.
Piercy and Thompson became close friends at MU.
“He was a competitor,” Piercy said. “Didn’t like to lose at anything. Cards, ping-pong, pool. There’s one thing about George, he didn’t want to lose. I think Al saw that in him. I’m going to miss him. A lot of people are going to miss him.”
Thompson bestowed Piercy his lifelong nickname of “Beautiful Bob.”
“He had nicknames for everybody,” Piercy said. “He called me ‘BB.’ I said ‘You don’t even know what ‘BB’ stands for.’ Because on our practice shirts it said ‘BB’ for basketball. And it stuck.”
Thompson and Piercy remained friends after their time at MU, frequently getting together in the Milwaukee area for lunch and some good-natured ribbing.
“Me and him used to argue a lot,” Piercy said. “I didn’t want him to get the best of me. He used to use those big words that he just learned or something. I said ‘George, you don’t even know what that means.’ ‘Yeah, Piercy, you got to start reading.’ ,
Thompson played pro basketball for the Pittsburgh Pipers / Condors and Memphis Tams of the American Basketball Association from 1969-’74 and ended his career in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1974-’75 season.
Thompson’s No. 24 jersey hangs in the rafters at Fiserv Forum. There was some controversy in 2006 when MU’s Lazar Hayward wore No. 24 for three games, but he switched to 32 after Thompson expressed his displeasure.
Thompson worked in communications for Briggs & Stratton for 31 years and was the regular analyst on MU basketball radio and television broadcasts for 27 years.
“The greatest moment for me with him was when we beat Kentucky (to reach the Final Four in 2003) and Dwyane Wade came over,” True said. “And they’re talking and George said, ‘You’re the best ever. Not only for what you’ve done but what you will do.’
“And it may have not meant anything for other people, but I never thought George would ever say that. It didn’t matter, you could score twice as many points as he did. He had to look and see and say that you were He said it and he was 100% right in terms of how much Wade would do.
“That was always a special moment for me because I never thought we’d ever hear it. Because I knew George was that good.”
Contact Ben Steele at (414) 224-2676 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenSteeleMJS or Instagram at @bensteele_mjs