Thursday, March 04, 2010

Remembering The Late Great Hank Gathers 20 Years Later...The Once & Future NBA Superstar...

ESPN: Hank Gathers

ESPN: Remembering Hank Gathers

Bo Kimble And Hank Gathers On The TODAY Show
Tragic night: Officials try to help Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers after he collapsed on the court March 4, 1990. Gathers led the nation in scoring and rebounding the season before.
Torrance (Calif.) Daily Breeze file photo via AP

By Wendell Maxey, Special for USA TODAY

The man did not want to let go of Bo Kimble's hand.

Kimble couldn't recall his name or where the
exchange occurred, but like countless handshakes
and encounters of this kind, Kimble says he
understood this was a chance for a person to touch a
part of Hank Gathers.

It's been 20 years to the day since Gathers, a 6-7

forward and senior at Loyola Marymount, collapsed
on the court and died of sudden cardiac arrest.

He was 23 years old.

"It feels about 10 years," Kimble remembers, looking
back on that heartbreaking night of March 4, 1990,
during a West Coast Conference tournament game at
Gersten Pavilion in Los Angeles.

"I've had grown men in a full cry. People come up to
me all the time and remember what we've done. That's
been happening non-stop."

Back then, Kimble and Gathers headlined coach Paul
Westhead's high-octane LMU offense of three-point
barrages and full-court presses, an up-tempo system
that captivated a nation during the Lions' amazing run
to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament 12 days
after losing Gathers.

"I can sense the distance and time, but that season
and those moments kind of get frozen in your body,"
says Westhead, now women's basketball coach at

Sadly enough, this has become the lasting memory of

"Hank is mostly remembered for the way he died, but
the way he lived is really an inspiring story," says
Kyle Keiderling, author of the newly released Heart of
a Lion: The Life, Death and Legacy of Hank Gathers.

"He had a dream, but it cost him his life. Hank knew
the risks he was taking."

Raised in the Raymond Rosen Projects in North
Philadelphia, Eric "Hank" Gathers was 12 when he had
visions of making it to the NBA. After one year at
Southern California alongside Kimble, they
transferred to the small Catholic college across town
where the Hank and Bo Show became a double

As a junior, Gathers led the nation in scoring (32.7
points a game) and rebounding (13.7). As a senior,
he was a candidate for player of the year.

With roughly 13 minutes left in the first half against
Portland in the WCC quarterfinals, sophomore point
guard Terrell Lowery threw an alley-oop pass to
Gathers for his trademark tomahawk dunk.

Running back on defense, Gathers slapped hands
with Lowery before falling to the floor around

With his mother, Lucille Gathers Cheeseboro, and
other family members standing by, Hank died.

Gathers had been projected as an NBA lottery pick. He
never saw that part of his dream come true.

"When I think of that moment, there really isn't much
sadness or sorrow. There is joy, but sadness and
pain is usually last," adds Kimble, who played three
years in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers and
New York Knicks.

"People identified with his greatness on the court, but
he was even greater as a person."

Five days after Gathers was laid to rest at Sharon Hill
cemetery in Philadelphia, LMU began an improbable
run through the tournament before falling to UNLV
one game short of the Final Four.

"It was all a blur to me," Kimble says softly. "When that
ball went up in the air, guys were playing for the love
and respect of Hank."

For Westhead, basketball provided an escape from

"Our team wanted to do something different than feel
the hurt of Hank's passing away," Westhead says.

"I certainly sensed that he was ever present in our
thoughts. That's for sure."

Known as one of the most memorable moments in
sports history, Kimble chose to shoot the first free
throw of every tournament game left-handed to honor
Gathers; he made all four.

"That was my selfish time to honor my fallen friend
and brother," Kimble says. "There was no better

That was the last time the Lions made it to the NCAA
tournament. The program has yet to see the success it
had under Westhead, who departed the school in
1990 after five seasons, a 105-48 record and three
tournament berths. Since, LMU has struggled under
seven coaches, posting four winning seasons. After
finishing 3-28 overall and 2-12 in the WCC last
season, the Lions are 16-14 overall and 7-7 under
second-year coach Max Good.

Today, through his non-profit Forty-four for Life
Foundation (, Kimble continues to honor
Gathers' legacy. The foundation raises money to
donate defibrillators and educate people around the
world about sudden cardiac arrest.

"It's all about giving back to save lives," Kimble says.

"It's a sign of respect for Hank."

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