Catholic, college basketball, Hank Gathers, Jesuit, LMU, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times, Loyola Marymount University, NCAA Tournament, Nevada Las Vegas, Southern California sports, UCLA, USC, West Coast Conference
March 4, 1990
A Sunday like any other Sundays; Spring was fast approaching, as was the climax of the college basketball season as across America, conferences were holding their annual basketball tournaments with the right to play in the “Big Dance” – the NCAA Tournament – at stake.
The West Coast Conference, a group of mostly Catholic schools, was one of those conferences as it held their tourney at Loyola Marymount University, a small Jesuit school in the Los Angeles suburb of Westchester located just north of the airport.
LMU’s Lions, who with their Road Runner-style offense that was averaging over 100 points per game, was playing the Portland Pilots in the tournament final.
Which was expected due to the presence of two transfers from Philadelphia by way of 15-miles-away USC: Bo Kimble and the nation’s leading scorer and rebounder, Hank Gathers.
To put it bluntly, Gathers was the man as he was virtually guaranteed to be the first pick in the upcoming NBA draft, he was so dominant; being a UCLA student at that time and a fervent follower of the Bruin basketball team and college basketball in general, I was keeping up with how Gathers, Kimble and his LMU teammates were doing in the newspapers and sports reports.
So when I saw him collapse after a slam dunk on the local TV newscast, I didn’t think too much of it as I remember thinking, “He’ll be all right; the hospital will fix him up.”
Imagine my shock when I picked up the Los Angeles Times at my door the next morning and saw this headline on the front page:
“GATHERS COLLAPSES, DIES”
The number that will forever be revered on the LMU campus
Needless to say, like so many others that headline hit me not like that proverbial ton of bricks, but several dozen tons of bricks.
Though I wasn’t a LMU student, had never been on that campus save for seeing my uncle getting his law degree there when I was around five or six, and had never come remotely close to meeting Gathers, I was affected by his passing all the same for one reason in particular, besides the obvious ones of his never getting to playing in the NBA and his family losing a son, a brother, and all of that:
Gathers was my age.
It was one of the first times that the thought and pondering of mortality – mine and others – crossed my mind, as up until that time the only people my age who had died, to my knowledge, was by their own hand; one who I had known since junior high school jumping off the roof of our local mall complex just a few months afer our high school graduation.
I was certainly saddened by the tragedy, but it heartened me when I saw Gathers’ jersey number 44 marked on LMU’s campus hillside for everyone in Marina Del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica (where I lived) and points north to see. I particularly recall seeing that #44 from the window of a hotel conference room where the UCLA Marching Band, which I was member of, was having their annual banquet and pointing it out to a few friends of mine.
I also vividly remember thinking as I read the story in the Times, “They (the LMU team) are going to go to the Final Four, watch,” being that teams always rally around a fallen teammate and do very well in subsequent games, using such teammate as motivation.
Which those Lions did as while my prediction of a Final Four appearance did not come true, they did make it to the Elite Eight, losing to eventual national champion Nevada Las Vegas.
To sum up and fast forward to the present day, I didn’t realize it had been 25 years to the day (as of this writing) until I saw reports and remembrances of it online of that horrible tragedy online.
Since that was the case, I felt that it would only be right to do a remembrance of a guy who was not only a great basketball player, but apparently a great person from how everyone reacted to what had happened and the things that folks were saying about him.
In other words, honoring and remembering #44 on this site is the right thing to do.
Of course it should go without saying that I hope this young man continues to rest in peace – I and roughly millions of others continue to miss him.
Here’s a video of the team that Hank led during that 1989-90 season, which obviously has many shots of his exploits:
Eric “Hank” Gathers 1967-1990