At the same time, this ogre can be extraordinarily thoughtful and loyal. When guard Fred Brown cost the Hoyas the 1982 national championship by passing the ball to an opponent he had mistaken for one of his teammates in the last seconds of the championship game, Thompson conspicuously embraced Brown after the buzzer. His longtime academic coordinator, Mary Fenlon, has been with him since his high school coaching days, and several of his staff members and associates have been at Georgetown for a decade or more. Most of them, contrary to the view of Thompson as a reverse racist, are white.
What we have here is an enormously complex individual, an African-American both seething with rage and possessed of loving instincts. Shapiro acknowledges at the beginning of Big Man on Campus that he is assuming a daunting task. Unfortunately, it is too daunting, for despite the mountain of evidence the writer has assembled, pro and con, he himself seems unable to fathom his subject. Shapiro is crippled, it would appear, by an unnecessary awe. The giant is never cut down to size. In the end, we, the readers, are left with the same question Shapiro asks himself in the opening pages: "Does anyone really know John Thompson?" The answer, regrettably, is no.