NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It’s a huge loss in the college basketball world.

Legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson has passed away. He was a giant on and off the court in college hoops.

As CBS2’s Otis Livingston reports, it has been 21 years since Thompson roamed the sidelines in the Big East Conference, but the former Georgetown head coach still casts an imposing figure in the world of college basketball. Not just for his wins – and there were many – but also for his stance on social issues.

He was much more than a basketball coach. On the court, his accomplishments are incredible: The first African American coach to lead his team to the men’s NCAA basketball championship in 1984. He coached Georgetown from 1972 to 1999 with a 596-239 record.

He was a crucial figure in the formation and rise of the Big East Conference.

In a statement, his son John Thompson III, also a former Georgetown head coach, wrote:

“Our father was an inspiration to many and devoted his life to developing young people not simply on, but most importantly, off the basketball court. He is revered as a historic shepherd of the sport, dedicated to the welfare of his community above all else.”

He groomed and mentored four future Hall of Famers: Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and of course former Hoyas and Knicks star Patrick Ewing, who Thompson successfully recruited in 1981- changing the program forever.

“He changed the world and helped shape the way we see it. He was a great coach but an even better person and his legacy is everlasting,” Ewing said.

The larger-than-life figure was also one of the most polarizing figures in college hoops. He expected a lot out of his players on the court, but his standard was just as high for academics. Big John played a big role on the topic of race in sports and society, and he once famously walked off the court before a game to protest proposition 48 which he felt was racially biased and hurt minority athletes.

Livingston spoke to sports columnist Bill Rhoden about Thompson’s legacy.

“Coach Thompson was sort of a real life superhero for a lot of us. You know, he was bigger than life. He took on these issues, beyond Xs and Os. Just his sense of standing up for what was right was the enduring legacy,” Rhoden said.

John Thompson was 78.

Another incredible stat: He coached in a time most players were staying in college for four years. During his 27 years at Georgetown, he had an incredible 97% graduation rate of players that stayed all four years.

Thompson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, the same year he quit coaching.

His family says he was suffering from multiple health problems.

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