Remembering Hank Gathers (video)

March, 2010 marked twenty years since the passing of Hank Gathers.  I intended to write about him and my Loyola-Marymount experience at the time, but the words didn’t come out right.  After watching ESPN’s Guru of Go, a documentary about LMU’s former head coach Paul Westhead, I was once again reminded of Gathers’ legacy and the aura surrounding the weeks after his death .

Like Len Bias before him, Gathers was a student athlete, a truly dominant basketball player, whose life was cut short long before he had a chance to realize his true potential.  There’s no telling what either one of them could have become.

I remember watching Gathers play on television that season.  If you liked offense, you liked LMU and Gathers was the kind of guy who could easily become your favorite player.  Westhead described him as “full of laughter, joviality and camaraderie.”  On a high-flying, Loyola team, Gathers was the workhorse, the team leader and its best player.

At only six-foot-seven, undersized for an NBA power forward, Gathers was a rebounding machine, one of only three players to ever lead the NCAA in both scoring and rebounding.  Xavier McDaniel did so for Wichita State in 1985.  Kurt Thomas did so for TCU in 1995.  Both went on to have respectable NBA careers.  One can’t help but think Gathers would have been better than both of them.

Despite Gathers’ legacy, perhaps the most memorable game in Loyola-Marymount history was one in which he never played.

Calling the atmosphere electric is an overused sports cliché, but if it were ever accurate, March 18, 1990 would be that day and Long Beach Arena would be that venue.

I should know because I was there.

My mother was living in Los Angeles at the time and I was visiting her from Florida on spring break.  A buddy of mine, the Gun, had somehow landed tickets to that day’s games.  On the slate that day: Arizona vs. Alabama and Loyola-Marymount vs. defending national champion Michigan.  Little did we know what was in store.

Although Glen Rice was gone, that Wolverine team was still loaded with future NBA talent: Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson, Tony Tolbert, Sean Higgins, and James Voskuil.  Loyola guard Tom Peabody called them “the biggest team [he] had ever seen.”  With Gathers gone, the only Loyola player that had any legitimate shot at the next level was Bo Kimble.

That mattered little, however, because that afternoon was all about #44.  Loyola-Marymount torched Michigan 149-115, setting an NCAA record for points scored in a single post-season game in the process.  If you blinked, you missed a basket.  The unlikely hero that day was sharp-shooting Jeff Fryer who scored 41 points.  It was as if he couldn’t miss.  Gather’s first mate, Bo Kimble, added 37.  Michigan never stood a chance.

It was the first time I had ever seen players write the number of a fallen teammate on their hi-tops.  Even people in the stands were doing it.  There were painted faces and signs everywhere showing their support for the memory of Hank Gathers.  After the blowout, hugs, tears, and autographs were exchanged amid an arena that was wholly supportive of LMU’s cause.  Leaving that day, we knew we had just seen something special.

Hank Gathers had passed away from his heart condition only two weeks earlier.  Somewhat ironic that an enlarged heart led to his death.  LMU would eventually lose to that year’s champion UNLV.

As sports fans, every so often, we’re blessed to witness a game that transcends sport.  That was exactly what happened in Long Beach Arena that day.  Thanks, JJ.

28 thoughts on “Remembering Hank Gathers (video)

  1. I know how hard it is to lose someone well before their time. For that team to be so inspired by that young man to play through that kind of pain is truly a testament to the person he was.

  2. Very sad…I remember Bo Kimble shooting the left handed free throw in Hank’s honor in the tournament…which he made if I remember correctly.

  3. That he did, D.

    If you can, check out that Guru of Go special. There’s some awesome old video of Gathers.

    I figured this would get guys of my generation commenting. Gathers was the man!

  4. Aer…

    I never knew how happy-go-lucky he was until watching that “Guru” show on Westhead. Check it out.

    I have no doubts that this guy would have been Barkley-like at the next level.

  5. ok, i couldn’t agree with you more. but check out HERE this great pics i found on this foreign blog. i think they tell a story, don’t they?

  6. Chris

    Be their loss through natural causes or otherwise when both Hank Gathers and Len Byas left this earth no one can deny that they left it far too soon ! So much talent between the two of them but somehow we never got to see it all come to complete fruition.

    Alan aka tophatal ………..

  7. I remember when Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble first came to USC (before they transferred to LMU.) They were exceptional basketball players who embodied the spirit of friendship on the court and in life. I believe they went to high school together. I was living in LA at the time and was shocked at his passing and the circumstances. He is the first athlete I ever heard of who died due to a heart condition. Since then, there have been many others. It’s so hard to fathom. Hank Gathers was survived by a young son.

    Too many people’s lives are tragically cut short from a variety of causes. We should treasure every day, no matter what our age. What a well written tribute to a great display by the LMU team! Very stirring Chris.

  8. Thanks, Elizabeth. Glad you enjoyed.

    Ya’ know, until watching ESPN’s Guru piece, I totally forgot that both Kimble and Gathers had transferred from USC.

    Kinda makes Raveling look like an idiot, huh?

  9. There’s one scene in Guru, Al, where, I think it’s his aunt, hits the floor in hysterics.

    Tough to watch, man.

    You can see twenty years later, his old teammates are still shaken by his loss.

  10. Chris

    I know how that family feels ! It’s the same with me and some of my fallen comrades from my days in the military especially after my service in N Ireland during some of the troubles there. I lost several comrades to acts by the IRA . Much of what happened during those skirmishes still give me cause for concern.

    So overnight Lebron goes from “hero” to a “complete zero” in the state of Ohio and in particular in the city of Cleveland ? Even the once despised Art Modell must now be thanking his lucky stars as he’s no longer persona-non-grata there. “LeChump” has just now become that person with his announcement that he’s leaving the team for Miami .

    All the talk of his thanks for the donations to his foundation that will now assist him making college scholarship donations to kids within the city of Cleveland won’t count for anything. The fans have felt betrayed by this act. What he seems to forget is that those donations were meant as a lure to get him to remain in Cleveland with the organization .

    The only people happy about this all are the Heat fans and in particular Riles as team President ! What a coup-de-grace on his part !

    See my latest for which there’s a link up above.

    Alan ………………

  11. Chris

    Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert is now finding out that payback can be and is indeed a b_tch !

    Cavs owner says LeBron James quit in playoffs

    CLEVELAND (AP)—Angered and betrayed by LeBron James’(notes) decision to leave for Miami, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert accused the NBA’s most valuable player of quitting during the playoffs.

    Gilbert, who posted a letter to Cavs fans on the team’s website shortly after James announced his plans to sign with the Heat, told The Associated Press late Thursday night that it’s “accountability time” for James.

    “He has gotten a free pass,” Gilbert said in a phone interview with The AP. “People have covered up for (James) for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is.”

    Gilbert feels James quit on the Cavs during their second-round series against the Boston Celtics, who rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate Cleveland.

    “He quit,” Gilbert said. “Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar.”

    The Cavaliers were beaten by 32 points in Game 5. During the game, James appeared distracted and uninterested, often glaring at Cleveland’s coaches as the Cavs tried to foul to get back into the game in the second half. James also made some puzzling postgame comments, saying he had “spoiled” people with his play over seven seasons.

    ====================================
    Click on link to read article in
    its entirety.
    ====================================

    I can understand how Gilbert might feel right about now as the gravy train has now left the station ! The franchise’s valuation immediately depreciates substantially. Harsh words for LeBron though .

    Alan ………….

  12. Al…

    I’ve tried to dissect the ‘decision’ all night and have failed to understand it at all.

    I know Bron Bron wants to play with his buds. I know he feels that gives him the best chance to win.

    But that’s about it. Miami has little, if any, basketball heritage, despite its one title. Playing in Miami will now make anyone other than Miami fans openly root AGAINST that team. And if he doesn’t win it all next year, a very good possibility, the pressure will be all that greater to win the following year.

    And nobody will care.

    The most hated man in the NBA is no longer Tim Donaghy.

  13. Chris

    Art Modell offered his sincere gratitude to LeBron as he’s no longer that bastard that most Ohioans thought him to be . That position now belongs exclusively to LeBron .

    Gilbert is aggrieved because he and GM Chris Grant were in over their heads and neither has any real skills when it comes to dealing with someone like LeBron !

    And The Winners Are

    Alan 🙂

  14. Chris

    It’ll get dirty when the fans decide to raid LeBron’s home in the Bath township burn it down and then question his birthright and manhood. And I hear that several members of the Klan are coming out of retirement purely because of LeBron ……….oh what a shame ! LOL,LOL LOL !!!

    And people thought that Modell was bad ? LeBron at least in conjunction staged last night’s fiasco . Two damn hours for a mere 30 second sound byte ?

    LaToya Jackson was more sincere when she was talking to Bubbles the chimp. Gray made sure that LeBron rubbed salt into the wound and he simply went along with it all !

    🙂 **** 🙂 **** 🙂

    Alan

  15. Hank was the man. I remember like it was yesterday trying to get on the Marina Freeway. There were cops and and closers everywhere as they shut down the road to let the ambulance get through. I turned on news radio and they had said what had happened. I will never forget that moment. In a town where Bruins basketball RULES Hank became the king of L.A. R.I.P.#44……….THE HANK AN BO SHOW!!!!!!!

  16. Pingback: Sports Chump » Memorable moments of 2010: The SportsChump Year in Review

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