In Washington DC in the 1980s, crossing drug kingpin Rayful Edmond didn’t usually end well.
Largely credited with introducing crack cocaine to the US capital, Edmond’s 150-man network was allegedly making $300 million a year moving tonnes of drugs.
In his early 20s, Edmond also loved playing and watching basketball.
In DC there was really only one team in town, college basketball’s Georgetown University.
Coached by John Thompson, the Hoyas — led by Patrick Ewing — won the national championship in 1984 and became an international brand.
They were an even bigger deal locally and Edmond, who was one of the city’s best playground players, loved to sit courtside and mix it up.
But as the Drug Enforcement Administration began to zero in on the flashy, good-looking trafficker, Thompson wanted to put an end to any association between his team and the underworld figure.
Most concerning to the coach were revelations two of his players — NBA-bound centre Alonzo Mourning and DC native John Turner — had been spotted hanging out with Edmond and playing for his playground team.
So Thompson, who had just returned from coaching America to a win in the bronze medal game against Australia at the 1988 Olympics, put word out on the street he wanted to see Edmond.
Not long after, a man linked with the deaths of more than 30 people — earning DC the nickname the “murder capital of the United States — knocked on the door of his office.
Thompson was an imposing figure himself. Standing 208cm tall, he’d been a star high school player in DC before being drafted by the Boston Celtics and winning NBA championships in 1965 and 1966.
After coaching at high school level he took his towering presence to Georgetown, where he ended up coaching for 27 seasons in a Hall of Fame career.
But intimidating young players, opposing coaches and referees and staring eyeball to eyeball with a man like Edmond — who was a fugitive at the time — were two markedly different things.
Still the coach had a point to make — stay away from my players.
“I didn’t get into his background or conduct an interrogation; that’s for the police,” Thompson later described. “I tried to make sure he knew the goals and objectives of my kids, and (tried to) make it very clear to him that I didn’t want anything going on with my kids.
“I had heard the rumours and innuendo, but it’s still an obligation if I hear of something going on to check it out. I figured, ‘He plays basketball, he loves basketball. Let me talk to this man’. My thing is basketball. Let me try and confront this problem immediately.”
Thompson was forced to explain the meeting when Edmond was arrested a few months afterwards.
“I don’t understand this expression of amazement,” said Thompson, about the furore surrounding their sit-down. “We cannot close ourselves off from the whole of society. We cannot isolate (ourselves), seal ourselves off from people. We’d better start confronting these problems. We’d better understand we’re incorporated into these problems. This isn’t them or they. The people involved with the drugs and being killed are our children. It’s not like somebody crawled out of some hole who is so different from us.”
He also separately admonished Mourning and Turner.
“(He said) you’re an embarrassment to the school and to the program,” Mourning recalled later. “You’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the program. You’re hurting every player who ever came here and built this program with their blood, sweat and tears.”
Edmond was convicted of numerous offences related to drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
Thompson finished coaching in 1999. He watched the program at Georgetown go full circle when Ewing became head coach in 2017, before the legendary mentor died on Tuesday aged 78.