hair, man. The Georgetown students used to rub Medley's head for good luck. He
was a mascot. Like a bulldog or a horse. His hair grew in tight, kinky curls so
it was beady to the touch. Little curly knots so it's like rubbing pebbles.
That's how he got his name.
"One day in
the athletic office an assistant track coach who'd been a Georgetown student
was telling me about all the fun they'd had with good old Pebbles. I asked him
flat out, 'Did you ever think of Pebbles as a man?' That's all I said. I left
it at that."
In his office
Thompson keeps a photo of Pebbles. He'd found it in a student-run,
end-of-semester flea market. In the picture a bosomy white coed, in a tight
white T shirt emblazoned with ALL DAY SUCKER, is doing mock battle with
Pebbles, a tug-of-war over a bottle of Jack Daniel's. Pebbles' long, bony black
hand clutches the neck of the bottle; the girl holds on, too, though it's not
clear whether she's poking the bottle at him or attempting to slip it from his
grasp. Thompson, indefatigable watcher of game tapes on the tri-level video
hookup in his office, has spotted the key detail that gives the photo its
story. It's not the laughing girl or Pebbles' sad-eyed grin, but the outpatient
hospital band around one of the black man's blade-thin wrists. Pebbles was on
leave from the alcoholic ward when the photo was snapped. Nobody meant any
harm, nobody was aware of the cruelty of teasing Pebbles with booze, except the
black coach who spots the telltale bracelet and keeps the icon around so he
"When I came
to Georgetown in 1972, I inherited Pebbles." Thompson says. "An early
version of Dancin' Harry. He'd jump around and clown around, acting a fool in
front of the students. I didn't want him anywhere near me. He embarrassed the
hell out of me. I'd try to hide when I saw him coming. It got so bad I told Mr.
Jabbo about him. Mr. Jabbo worked at Number Two Boys Club since I was a kid,
with Mr. Wyatt, Mr. Julius Wyatt. The guys down at the club can still ask me
anything, I'll do it. Mary Fenlon [the Hoyas' academic coordinator] calls them
my Amen Corner. They're at all our games. That picture on the wall is of Mr.
Wyatt, fixing the batting helmet on a little kid. The attention he gave to all
of us who went to Number Two Boys Club is amazing. And he was tough. Didn't
care who you were. And there were some mean jokers there. You came in the Boys
Club, Mr. Wyatt would say, 'Take off that hat, buddy boy.' And believe me the
hat came off.
was always good to us kids, too. Sent some of his boys from the club up here to
play ball for me. I'd have to tell him, 'Mr. Jabbo, you can't bring tuna fish
and coats to these kids now. They're NCAA athletes.' 'John,' he'd say, 'I don't
care nothing about no NCAA. These my boys. They poor boys. Don't have nothing.'
And he'd drive his old wreck of a station wagon right on campus. Park it behind
the gym. 'Where's my boys?' 'Where's my children?' Have some of every damned
thing packed in the back. Canned food. Bread. Shoes. Don't know where in the
world he'd collect all that stuff. Brought a pair of pimp shoes once. Heels six
inches high with some kind of fluid in them and little goldfish swimming
around. I said, 'Hey, Mr. Jabbo. These are pimp shoes. Where'd you find these
things?' 'Got to take care my kids, John. Where you hiding my boys?'
told Jabbo about Pebbles. Jabbo and Pebbles go way back, you see. To those days
when they sneaked in and played ball on Georgetown's fields. So Jabbo took
Pebbles behind the stands in the field house and said about me, 'This boy
worked hard to get here. He worked real hard, and he's trying hard to make
something good here. Now, we wouldn't want to do nothing to mess it up for him,
would we?' Cool, you know, but you better believe Pebbles knew what Mr. Jabbo
was talking about. So Pebbles cooled down his act a little bit. But he was
always hanging around. The more I thought about him, the more I understood
maybe I had been too hard on him. Like Pebbles was doing the best he could. He
was more or less raised on the campus. There's an old photo somewhere of him in
knickers and suspenders, just a kid, with students all around him. He grew up
here, and they expected him to be a clown, a mascot. That's all he knew and
that's what he became. The students didn't see anything wrong. It's what they
were taught. So I became a little ashamed about being angry at Pebbles. I named
one of our basketball awards after him—the Raymond Medley Award [for
sportsmanship]. His life wasn't easy. He did the best he could. I keep his
picture to remind me.
how people come around, black people, and accuse me of forgetting where I came
from. Then whites accuse me of being racist. You know there're some things I'll
never forget. I was raised a Catholic. I remember going in second to pray. All
that talk around me about holiness and the Gospels. Then the black folks
waiting till the white folks had finished before we got our chance to pray.
How's anybody going to forget stuff like that? Or the public housing projects?
Yet whites and blacks will tell you in a minute who you're s'posed to be.
That's not what Dr. King died for. He didn't say give up one kind of slavery
for another. No matter who it is, black or white, I don't want anybody giving
me orders, deciding for me who I ought to be.
simple. Nobody has all the answers. John Thompson's never written a book
telling other coaches they should play 10 people, sit in the middle of the
bench, in the back of the team bus, that they better close their practices,
keep their freshmen from talking to the press till after January of their first
season. See, certain things have worked for me. I tried them and they worked.
Which doesn't mean that's the only way. But it's my way. I'm not going to try
and force other coaches to change. I did what came naturally to me. Yet people
get worried because my ways are different from theirs. Hey, what's Thompson
doing in there? Is he using race as a weapon? Is he preaching us against them?
That kind of nonsense bothers me. I'm not going to ask anybody's permission to
be a human being.
people are very threatened when blacks make statements instead of asking
questions. Individuality is the American myth. We preach it but reject it in
people. I didn't even know what I did was different till somebody identified it
as different. I'm strongest when presenting something the way I'm comfortable,
the way I've learned. When I find myself having to constantly explain, I feel
weakened. It's a threat when a person, especially a black person, wants to be
creative and that creativity doesn't conform to guidelines that already exist.
It's a free country, right? A reporter's free to describe what I'm doing and
hold me accountable, but don't try to interfere, don't try to step in and form
what I'm doing. That's arrogant and ridiculous.
coaching because I can put something of John Thompson in it. I can express who
I am in my coaching. If I couldn't do that, it wouldn't be worth the trouble.
I'm a human being, I do some things well and others not so well. I tell people
I'm not perfect and I resent every minute of not being perfect. I work hard to