December 20, 2020 – The storied face-to-face between Hall of Fame Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson and hoop-happy Washington D.C. drug kingpin Rayful Edmond was a cordial meeting of the minds, not a heated scolding as has been commonly reported for the last thirty-plus years, according to Thompson’s posthumously released autobiography I Came As A Shadow, put out by Macmillan Publishers last week. Several pages of the book are devoted to detailing the now almost mythical interaction.
Thompson, 78, died of heart failure back in August. Edmond spent much of his time on the top of the District’s dope game during the height of the crack era socializing and playing playground basketball with Georgetown hoopsters. Thompson’s Georgetown squads of the 1980s were national powerhouses, appearing in three Final Fours and winning the 1984 NCAA championship. The imposing 6-10, towel-wielding coach himself became the most iconic image of a wildly-successful and massively popular basketball program with merchandise that became an early staple of hip hop fashion.
The biggest drug dealer in D.C. history, Edmond was arrested in April 1989 and eventually convicted of a federal narcotics conspiracy that put him in the prison for the rest of his life. In 1996, he entered the Witness Protection Program after another drug bust on the inside, but has still yet to taste freedom.
Edmond was a huge Georgetown basketball fan and sat courtside at most home games. He was close childhood friends with Georgetown small forward John Turner, who introduced him to incoming freshman and 1988 McDonald’s All-American center Alonzo Mourning the summer after Mourning graduated high school in Virginia.
Mourning and Turner were roommates. Turner, a Maryland native, had gotten to Georgetown the year before as a junior college transfer.
Per FBI records and Thompson’s new autobio, Edmond became a fixture in the player dorms at the university in 1987 and the first half of 1988 and frequently took Hoya hoopsters on shopping sprees, VIP trips to nightclubs and invited them to his house for lavish parties. The then 23-year old Edmond played high-stakes summer tournament ball with Mourning and Turner in June and July of 1988 in and around the D.C. area. Edmond’s summer teams were always called “Men at Work.” Informants told the FBI, Edmond paid his players $1,000 per victory.
In June 1988, Edmond is alleged to have ordered the murder of a rival D.C. drug world figure following an altercation at a local nightclub, one of more than a dozen gangland homicides the feds believed the Edmond organization was responsible for. The victim, Brandon (B-Money) Terrell, was a former employee of Edmond’s who tried opening his own narcotics business.
Thompson had left town that spring to be the head coach of the 1988 USA Olympic Team, giving Edmond more space to integrate himself with the players. When he returned from the Seoul Olympics and saw the state of his program, the city’s most notorious gangster firmly implanted in the team’s on and off-campus culture, Thompson was more than a little worried.
He sought to address the problem at its source and went about trying to set up a meeting with Edmond to express his dismay at the situation.
“I figured out that while I was away Alonzo and Turner had gotten tight (and Turner introduced him to Edmond)” Thompson writes. “I knew Rayful to be the biggest drug dealer in Washington at that time. I was extremely concerned. Alonzo and John’s futures were at risk, let alone their basketball careers. I had a responsibility to protect the school (and my players).”
Because of Edmond’s love of the game of basketball, a large portion of his inner circle was a crew of ex-high school and college hoop stars like Clarence (Bootney) Green, Emanuel (Mangey) Sutton, Columbus (Little Nut) Daniels, Melvin Middleton and Earl Moore. Thompson knew Bootney Green, a high-scoring Division II All-American and D.C. playground legend, and reached out to Green to request an audience with Edmond.
“He (Rayful) wasn’t too hard to find,” Thompson writes. “We knew someone in common in Bootney Green, who was Division II Player of the Year at Cheyney State a few years back. Bootney was a legend in the city. A lot of the kids I coached grew up admiring Bootney. He wasn’t a drug dealer, but Rayful had him on his summer team and took him around the city with his entourage. So I put out word that I wanted to speak to Bootney. When I get Bootney on the phone, I tell him I need him to bring Rayful to my office.”
Thompson explains why he thinks Edmond was willing to even meet with him in the first place and why the most dangerous man in the city appeared to cower in Thompson’s presence.
“People think it showed my power in the city that Rayful Edmond came when I called, but its not about power, its about what I represented to Black people in Washington D.C. at that time. It scared Rayful, the idea that he was causing me a problem. His thought process was probably much like that of a young man who gets in trouble with his father.”
With Bootney and Melvin Middleton (Bootney’s point guard in high school) in tow, Edmond arrived for his meeting with Thompson at McDonough Hall on a late afternoon in October 1988. Thompson scheduled the meeting for after a Hoyas practice and escorted Edmond himself into a private suite to have their discussion.
“It was a stressful moment,” Thomson writes. “Other than by reputation) I didn’t know Rayful and he didn’t know me. A lot could go wrong. It’s much easier to write about the experience today than it was actually living it…..I recognized his intelligence right away. He didn’t act tough or come in there talking a whole bunch of street language. I treated him respectfully and as a result, he gave me the same respect. I believe he answered my questions (denying shaving points, unlawfully paying his players or having them deal drugs for him) in a truthful manner.”
Towards the end of the meeting, Edmond admitted to Thompson that Turner was quite enamored by the gangster lifestyle and that he would watch out for him in the future, trying to steer him away from any such endeavors.
“J.T. (Turner) isn’t doing anything (selling drugs), but he likes being around guys that are, he’s attracted to the lifestyle. I’ve always told him to stay away from this stuff,” Thompson recalled Edmond telling him.
Thompson instructed Turner, Mourning and the rest of the entire Hoyas team to keep their distance from Edmond. Turner refused.
The DEA visited Turner at Thompson’s office after a practice in the 1988-1989 season and inquired to his dealings with Edmond. Turner was seen sitting courtside with Edmond’s entourage at a Washington Bullets game and Turner was observed driving a Mercedes Edmond was alleged to have gifted to a lieutenant of his for murdering Brandon Terrell.
The 1988-1989 Georgetown Hoyas went 29-5 and lost to Duke in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. Turner was booted from the program in the wake of the loss and repeated sightings with Edmond around town. He was arrested on a cocaine charge in July 1989.
Transferring to Division III Phillips University in Oklahoma, Turner made the most of the change of scenery and was a first-round NBA draft pick by the Atlanta Hawks in 1991. Turner played most of his pro career overseas.
Mourning became one of the program’s all-time greats, turning in a Hall of Fame NBA career in the middle for the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets franchises. Thompson retired from the sidelines in 1999 and went into broadcasting.