Hank Gathers Remembered
March 10, 2010 3:49 PM   Subscribe

"He was so high," says Lucille Gathers Cheeseboro, two decades later. "And then when he came down, he was so low." Hank Gathers, remembered twenty years later.

Diagnosed with exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia, Hank Gathers, as a junior, managed to be only the 2nd player in history to lead the NCAA in both scoring (33 ppg) and rebounding (14 rpg).

About twenty years ago this week, Gathers, All-American power forward for 1990 Loyola Marymount University Lions, the highest-scoring team in NCAA history, collapsed at midcourt after high-fiving teammate, good friend and future All-American Bo Kimble due to an exercise-induced heart attack during a conference championships game.

After his death, the Lions made a surprising run during the NCAA Tournament, making it to the Elite Eight before falling to the powerhouse UNLV Runnin' Rebels. During that stretch, Bo Kimble, in honor of his friend Gathers, shot each of his first free throws in each game left-handed (a tribute he would continue while in the NBA).

Gathers played under an incredibly break-neck offense constructed by coach Paul Westhead. Curious about what a perpetually fast-breaking/fullcourt-pressing game looks like? You might enjoy this all-time classic overtime game from 1990, pitting the Gathers/Kimble Loyola Marymount Lions against a young and talented Louisiana State University Tigers, available here (second video down; been kind of wonky viewing for me, but hooooooly shit is this a great game. Classic. Seriously). How young and talented was that LSU team? They featured three future NBA 1st Round draft picks: the quick and deadly Chris Jackson (who was probably the most famous basketball player afflicted with Tourette's syndrome and who would later change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), and a few big fellas, 7-foot center Stanley Roberts (whose career would be derailed by injuries and drug abuse) and the thin, perma-grinning 7-foot freshman center, Shaquille O'Neal (a.k.a. Shaq, The Diesel, Shaq Fu, The Big Aristotle and Hobo Master, Superman, The Big Agave, The Big Cactus, The Big Shaqtus, Wilt Chamberneezy, Dr. Shaq, The Big Baryshnikov, etc.)
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches (14 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
(That insane LMU/LSU game -- which, if you have an hour, you should really watch, because it's about as exciting as basketball can get -- is via the wonderful Slate sports podcast Hang Up and Listen; in general, the post is via a personal neurotic tick that I won't get into, but involves Gathers, one of my favorite basketball players growing up)
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 3:55 PM on March 10, 2010

ESPN tribute.

The PTI guys look back at the tragic death of Hank Gathers.
posted by netbros at 4:32 PM on March 10, 2010

I remember Hank Gathers and his tragic death very well. ESPN sort of became like CNN after he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. It was heart-rending when they announced he died. I can't think of another athlete of Gathers' magnitude who died (well, was stricken, and then died shortly thereafter), on the field of play in a team sport.

This occured was during the West Coast Conference tournament. In reaction to his death, the WCC cancelled the rest of the tournament and offered the prize, a berth in the NCAA tournament (the "national" tournament for collegiate basketball in the US), to Loyola Marymount.

It was from there that LMU posted their memorable run to the National quarterfinals. Thanks for posting this.
posted by mreleganza at 4:32 PM on March 10, 2010

I thought this was incredibly tacky, though:
Following his death, Gathers's parents eventually sued LMU for $32.5 million. The school settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Stay classy, Gathers family.
posted by hincandenza at 4:37 PM on March 10, 2010

Stay classy, Gathers family.

Wait, what? As if it's completely beyond the realm of possibility that the team doc's diagnosis was negligent? Unless you're just implying it's shitty to sue a school or something. I think your cynicism is a tad misplaced, but I could be wrong.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:46 PM on March 10, 2010

The Portland Pilots team were in shock too when Gathers died during their game.
posted by Cranberry at 4:51 PM on March 10, 2010

FWIW, I believe that Gathers was diagnosed, given his medicinal regimen, and, on his own volition, cut back/stopped taking his prescribed meds because they slowed him down. If there's any evidence that he was severely pressured from the outside, I have yet to read it (srsly, link if so-- I haven't exactly exhausted the Gathers-suit news, and I'd be interested to read if there's evidence that his coaches/school pressured him to discontinue his meds).

(And some fun box score teasers for that 148-141 LMU/LSU game (NO SPOILERS): Gathers goes for 48 pts, 13 rbs, Kimble 32 and 11; O'Neal 20 pts, 24 rbs, 12 blocks). Oh, and somewhere along the way, Chris Jackson gets a black eye. You will never see another game like this.)
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 5:05 PM on March 10, 2010

Really great post, thanks for bringing back such great memories about Hank.
posted by vito90 at 5:18 PM on March 10, 2010

I graduated from LMU in 1977, when the school's basketball program was a perennial competitor for 3rd place in its conference. The hiring of Westphal and subsequent rise in the school's b-ball fortunes actually drew this alumnus to Gersten Pavillion to watch a game which I had never done while a student there. It was before Gathers' death so I watched the whole Dream Team in action, and against semi-crosstown rivals Pepperdine (where I had started college, realized my mistake, and transferred to Loyola). An awesome experience, making what followed all the more stunning.

The playoff loss to UNLV just reinforced my opinion that Las Vegas is the most evil place on earth.

Note to original poster: In the '70s, I was a fan of the L.A./Anaheim/California Angels solely because of Nolan Ryan (hey, he was pretty much the team's only asset at the time), which makes this post pretty much encompass my entire history as a sports fan, except for getting an autograph at an L.A. grocery store from Harold 'Happy' Hairston, starting forward and my favorite player for the record-breaking West/Chamberlain Lakers team of '71-'72 (his contributions were sadly underrated, but what can you say?)...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:20 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for this. I attended LMU, and while during the years I was there the basketball team wasn't doing so hot, the Gathers/ Kimble era was always a topic of conversation and awe for us, even now. The Lions actually had a decent season this year, which makes the 20 year anniversary even more special. I remember a few years back there was a music video where Nelly (remember him?) was sporting the Gathers #44 jersey, and we all thought it was the coolest thing in the world, that our tiny little school that no one has heard of had produced such a great icon that people will never forget, even after all these years. Sending this to all my old college friends now...
posted by Defender90293 at 7:21 PM on March 10, 2010

That was 20 years ago? Where did all of those years go?
posted by mike3k at 8:13 PM on March 10, 2010

On a related note, there is a new study out suggesting that routine EKG testing of athletes is effective in preventing this sort of death. I know that Gathers had already been worked up for heart disease, but diagnosis of the sorts of uncommon things that cause young healthy people to suddenly die has improved in the last twenty years.
posted by TedW at 9:08 AM on March 11, 2010

Great post, NolanRyan!

I remember this vividly, and I can also remember rooting for LMU so hard all throughout the NCAA Tourney that year. I was crushed when UNLV beat them.
posted by BobFrapples at 2:33 PM on March 11, 2010

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