Throwback Thursday: Hank Gathers

                                                                                 

As college basketball teams across the country participate in their respective conference tournaments it serves as a reminder that March Madness is among us.

Before the Madness, yours truly takes a moment to reflect on the memory of Hank Gathers as it reminds us of how precious life is.

Each March for the past three years, I’ve taken it upon myself to tell the world about Hank Gathers and what he’s meant to me. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re both from North Philadelphia. Maybe it’s the connection I felt with him through basketball. Whatever the case, I know that his death touched me. And I feel the need to keep his memory as a point of reference in everyone’s mind.

There’s a summer league named in his honor, the recreation center where he honed his skills now bears his name and there is a beautiful mural of Hank at 25th & Diamond Sts. For some reason I feel not enough has been done to secure his legacy and that’s where I want to make my contribution.

 I’m sure across the country many share my same sentiments in regard to Benji Wilson, Len Bias and Reggie Lewis.

After winning the High School Public League Championship in 1985, Hank Gathers along with his teammate and friend Bo Kimble enrolled at USC. At the end of their freshman year, head coach Stan Morrison was fired,  Gathers and Kimble decided to transfer to Loyola Marymount University coached by Paul Westhead.

Their next three seasons together would move at warp speed.

Westhead implemented a run and gun system that had the Lions launching a shot within 10 seconds of their possession. Defensively LMU used full-court pressure to cause turnovers leading to easy baskets. Loyola’s games resembled a track meet that just happened to take place on a basketball court. 

                                                                                           

The prime beneficiary of the system was Gathers who in the 1988-89 season became only the second player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in scoring (32.7) ppg and rebounding (13.7 rpg.). LMU’s scoring was one of the biggest stories that season. After the Lions loss in the NCAA tourney, the lure of the NBA would be calling for Gathers to forgo his senior season but instead he opted to stay another year.

In the 1989-90 season there were three standout games that I remember vividly, I have two of them on tape (Am I the only person in the Western Hemisphere that still uses a VCR???)

Game 1: November 15, 1989 LMU vs. UNLV, NIT Opening Round 

 I was excited about this game for one reason, it was the debut of Larry Johnson and I wanted to see L.J. and Hank go head up. I’m a huge Rebels fan, but on this night I was torn.  Although I was excited about Johnson, I wanted Hank and Bo to do well. Hank held his own (18pts. 11 rebs.) but the Rebels would pull it out 102-91. The night belonged to Bo Kimble who established himself as an offensive force on his way to leading the nation in scoring that season.

Two things in this game stood out to me – there was a moment where the conditioning between the two teams showed, midway through the first half the camera focused in on Johnson bent over, hands on his knees sucking for air. Although a bomb threat that delayed the game, it would allow Johnson to recoup. Westhead had his team conditioned well enough to run the Rebels out of the Thomas and Mack Center, but it just wasn’t their night.

The second came when Greg Anthony began to talk trash to Bo Kimble, when Gathers comes from out of nowhere and steps to Anthony, Johnson comes over and calms things down and play resumes. Moments later Gathers would score on a three point play and yell out “WAR!!!” that was his mentality in between the baselines.

Game 2: January 4 & 6 1990 LMU vs. St. Joseph’s/LaSalle Philadelphia, Pa.

This marked the homecoming for Gathers and Kimble who would return to Philadelphia as collegians for the only time in their careers. This game would be the third since Hank’s first collapse on December 9th against UC Santa Barbara. Gathers played a subpar game (11 pts. 7 rebs.). Kimble, the nation’s leading scorer would pour in 54 pts. including a running shot from near half court at the buzzer to seal a Lions win 99-96. Two nights later they would face an old friend in Lionel Simmons and the LaSalle Explorers in a 121-116 thriller. The Lions were led by Kimble’s 32 points. Gathers would rebound by scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 boards. The more I think about it I believe Hank was pacing himself saving his best homecoming performance for last.

For many of us in Philadelphia, it would be the last time we saw Hank alive.

Game 3: February 3, 1990 LMU vs. LSU Baton Rouge, La.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if seatbelts were fastened to the seats prior to tip-off. This game featured four All-Americans (Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson, Kimble and Gathers) as well as three Naismith award finalists (Jackson, Kimble, Gathers).

This was by far the most entertaining college game I have ever seen. If you wanted a wide open game this was for you. Collectively, the two teams nearly scored 300 points in an overtime classic LSU won 148-141. The freshman “Diesel” tallied a triple-double 20/24/12, Chris Jackson was fire as usual with 34 points and 9 assists. Even Stanley Roberts showed up with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Bo Kimble would dump in 32 point and add 11 boards.

                                                                                                

But the day belonged to the 6’7″ Gathers, who played the game of his career, scoring 48 points and 11 rebounds – he even made 8-11 free throws (Hank struggled notoriously from the free throw line throughout his career) Any doubts that I had about Gathers heart condition that day were gone. Sadly enough fate wouldn’t have it to be, that game was Hank’s last nationally televised game. One month later Hank would collapse for the second time in the opening round of the West Coast Conference tournament. Hank never regained consciousness. In an ironic twist LMU’s game against LSU was played in the Maravich Center named for LSU great “Pistol” Pete Maravich would died two years earlier from a heart condition.

To my surprise my mom let me stay home from school to attend the funeral, anyone who was someone was there, it was unusually warm that day, I remember the preacher saying that “Hank brought the heat from California with him”. Loudspeakers were placed outside for us to listen to the services because the church couldn’t hold everyone. It was an emotional day for everyone, I saw grown men regardless of their status weeping. I would never question the Hand of God – but it didn’t seem fair. We grieved because we lived vicariously through Hank – we knew that once he got to the league we had someone who we could place on our shoulders and call our own. He was our Champion.

Three years ago as the calendar approached 15 years since Hank’s death I contacted a basketball publication with a story to commemorate to Hank, I had people who knew Hank willing to contribute including Dawn Staley, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Hank credits him for being very influential in her development as a basketball player. Well the story was shot down. My next move was to work on a book that would have those that knew Hank best tell stories involving Hank. I didn’t want the book to focus on his death; I want it to be a celebration of his life.  Two years ago I ran into Bo Kimble at a club, we talked for a good five minutes about Hank and life and basketball. I told him that I was 17 when Hank passed and I’ve never forgotten it. Nor did I forget the way he carried himself in the wake of the tragedy. He was appreciative that I even remembered who he was.

About six months ago I had the pleasure of speaking to Hank’s mother Lucille Gathers Cheeseboro for her permission to begin to work on the book she respectfully declined. I felt bad because I could sense that the mention of Hank and all brought back memories and that wasn’t my intention. 

I can’t promise that there will ever be a book by me (Although Mizzo is telling me not to give up on it) but I will show my appreciation for Hank Gathers in some way. Even if it’s writing this annual tribute, hopefully it will touch enough people to look into who Hank Gathers was.

                                                                                                          

                                                                                   Hank Gathers.jpg                       

18 Responses to “Throwback Thursday: Hank Gathers”

  1. Kyle Keiderling says:

    Your tribute to Hank is one of many that appears annually around the anniversary of his tragic passing. Like the others it is fitting and proper for you to memorailize someone whose life was extraordinary and heroic. That Hank Gathers should be remmbered as “the guy who died on the court” is as tragic as his demise. It ignores the complexity of his life, the nobility of its purpose and his lasting legacy.
    “There was nothing ordinary about Hank Gathers. He was a walking thunderbolt,” said Paul Westhead.
    A few days after Hank crumbled to the court at Gersten Pavilion, Pulitzer Prize- winning cartoonist Paul Conrad composed his own tribute to Hank which appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 7,1990. It depicts a basketball-like comet streaking across an inky black sky toward the heavens. Its tail of cosmic dust separates it, for just that instant, from all the other celestial bodies. Beneath is this caption: “Born of the sun, he traveled a short while toward the sun and left the vivid air signed with his honor.”
    That is the way Hank should be recalled by all.

  2. thebrotherreport says:

    Thanks for reading it, I never try to relive his last moments or focus on his death, like you said there was more to Hank than that.

    Speaking of the cartoon, I do remember seeing it, the truth being is that we’re all comets – some just travel longer than others.

  3. BALLDUST says:

    I REMEMBER SEEING HANK PLAYED 1 GAME, CAN’T REMEMBER AGANIST WHICH TEAM, BUT HE WAS THE BEST PLAYER I HAVE EVER SEEN IN COLLEGE. HE WAS GREAT.

  4. Samuel Kemp says:

    I enjoyed reading the tribute to Hank Gathers and was deeply saddened when he died. I became a fan of Loyola Marymount because of him.

    I live in Baton Rouge and will never forget the night they played LSU. I was pulling for the Tigers, ofcourse, but Marymount gained my respect. Not only I, but the city was in shock and saddened. Coach Dale Brown said he was one of the best, if not the best player he had ever seen.

    Players like Hank Gathers come around once. Not only the quality of his on field play, but the qualities I heard he possessed as a person were just as great.

    The Friendship between Bo Kimble and he was so evident after his death. I’ve never seen a young man so hurt over the loss of a friend. I know they talked about the future and what it would hold. Two Great players from a lesser known college lighting up the the Pros.

    It was not to be. God had others plans. I’m an Ordained Minister and I sometimes don’t have the answers to why God takes some and leave others. I can tell you this; The Testimony and Legacy he left is an example for others. Maybe this is what God had planned!

  5. Allison says:

    I happen to come upon this article on a day that I needed to remember how fragile life is. I was a huge Loyola fan back then and I too was 17 when Hank died. I knew him personally because my dad worked at Loyola announcing games for several years on the local channel. I hope that all who read your article are inspired and will have a small glimpse into the man and awesome basketball player that he was. I am not sure that Loyola still displays the banner and the memorial bench that was dedicated to him and his teammates that continued to play that year. Loyola went on to the final eight teams in the NCAA tournament that year. There love for Hank and their dedication to his memory was clearly demonstrated when they continued to play that year. As a parent myself now I can only imagine the pain that his mother must still feel everyday that she wakes up without her son. I saw the sadness in her eyes when I attended the memorial service at Loyola (and a packed house the gym was). The crowd chanted as Bo gave his final goodbyes…. We love you Hank. Tears rolled down my face and I will never forget him or that season. I only hope that his memory will never be forgotten… he truely had the “heart of a lion”.

  6. Peter Vasil says:

    i didint know Hank Gathers but im reading the book right now on his life that he had and how he was raised growing up and his tragic death he had he was a warrior and very aggressive on the court can flat out score and rebound its a shame of what happened but i guess it was meant to be he was a great player with heart love you Hank Gathers

  7. Mike Cervellino says:

    First off, let me say that this was a very moving tribute to a wonderful person who was taken from us all too soon. I got on board the LMU express as soon as Hank and Bo were eligible as sophomores and their NCAA games against Wyoming with Fennis Dembo and North Carolina. I remember Bo cracked a kneecap and redshirted at one point and Hank carried that team through the season. He was a one man gang in the paint at 6’7. His senior year I vividly remember the games against UNLV, Gary Payton and Oregon State, LSU, and the Philly games. I lived for those LMU games and Hank Gathers was far and away my favorite college player of all time. What struck me about him was his ferocity on the court, yet profound gentleness and compassion off it especially with kids. Hank’s passing saddened me as if I had lost a close friend. We had mutual friends, but I never had the privilege of meeting Hank. Since then, I’ve moved into the coaching arena at several levels, the last decade as an AAU coach here in NJ. I’ve had the privilege of coaching over 50 Division 1 players, with several collegiate All Americans and NBA and overseas professionals among them.
    I never cease to tell them the story of Mr. Gathers, a man who played the game the right way, hard and clean. Losing was never an option and he left everything out there. Young people today take too much for granted and don’t always enjoy or respect the game as they should. So I tell them the story of Hank, the “Bankman” as Paul Westhead called him, who LMU went to “for points, for rebounds, for life.” Hank called himself the strongest man in the world. He may well have been.

  8. mrd says:

    It was the of 88 and a ref didnt show up for a outdoor playground game and i was asked to ref the game in the Logan section of Philadelphia near Olney Ave and home for the summer was Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble who played in this game. At the time Hank led the nation in scoring and was playing at this badly painted playground with bad lights and against alot of local kats from the area. It was a night I’ll never forget. They were workin it out. Alley ops, 3 pointers, just some special basketball.

  9. SNOOP says:

    This is an article that all of the youth that continue to play at the Hank Gathers center should be required to read. This will hopefully help them understand and appreciate that they are playing in a historical site and representing a historical figure. There are many of our youth that don’t understand the responsibilties that come with living and playing basketball in the great city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia is rich with basketball history and Hank was one of our historical golden boys. My son will be required to read this article today.

    Thanks Hank – For everything!
    Snoop – Philly Rockets

  10. For You Hank says:

    I came upon this as I know the book will be coming out soon written by Kyle Keiderling. I read the article written and I can appreciate what you have written and also what others have commented on. Hank was exactly what everyone has stated and more. As a young kid 20 years ago I had the best job in the world as an 11 year old boy. I was a ball boy for the LMU Men’s basketball team. I was there working under the basket when Hank collapsed against Santa Barbara and I was at the other end when he threw down a thunderous dunk from a Terrell Lowry Alley Oop pass that litterally rocked me and the basket like an earthquake the second time he collapsed in a game. I watched Hank run to half court and then fall as he was getting ready to defend the press at half court. A hush went over gerston pavillion like I’ve never experienced before. I knew he would get up as I saw him get up against UCSB. I watched as Josh Lowry , Terrell’s brother who played for Portland try and help him up and then when Bo and other’s tried and Hank, my hero, didn’t get up my heart dropped. I was sad because at that age and being a part of the team I knew this probably meant that Hank wouldn’t be able to play basketball anymore. I had fed him passes during warm ups before the game as he would stay longer during pregame shootaround shooting extra shots. I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. As the paramedics and doctors carried him away and took him to the hospital I noticed the rest of the team in the locker room and the feeling like something bigger was happening. I walked in and I remember tom peabody was crying and so was the other guys. I didn’t understand. I’d never experienced anyone really close to me die as I was a 11 year old kid. Sure people died who were friends of my my parents or older people in the community but never had a person I considered a friend, a person I looked up to with such high regard as Hank die so I wouldn’t believe that was possible. I called my dad and told him what happened to Hank and that the game was called and it was time to pick me up.

    I remember coming home to our house and talking to my parents about what happened. I told them that Hank had a huge dunk then ran to half court and collapsed because of his heart. I told them when they picked hank up and carried him away I did what I always did when a player fell- I ran out and tried to quickly wipe up the floor where he laid. It took longer than usual as hank’s 6-7 inch frame laid there for a while. I remember seeing Brian Quinn the Athletic Director and his expression was not normal. I said all the players were crying. My dad turned the Laker game on and that’s when it all changed. That’s when I was hit like a ton of bricks with news that I never could prepare for as a young kid, never would let myself believe. Chick Hearn announced right there in front of my dad and myself and my mother that LMU basketball Star Hank Gathers was pronounced dead after collapsing during a basketball game at Gerston Pavillion. I heard it and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I lost control as I cried uncontrollably and ran to my room. I was DEVASTATED.

    Hank had an affect on people that knew him that made every person feel like they were so special. He was so funny and would make you feel important. I was a young kid and ballboy and he didn’t treat us like we were nobody’s. He always played with us, joked with us, and smiled with that smile that would light up a room. He winked at us when he’d make a good play or win a game and he made us feel part of the team, part of what coach Westhead and the team was trying to do. That team, that season, the run and gun, full court press, was the most exciting team to watch. It feels strange 20 years later and writing from the perspective of when I was 11 years old however the life and death of Hank Gathers paved a path for me that I know Hank would be proud of. I never heard of or knew anyone ever to say a bad thing about this man. He was bigger than life yet he related with so many people. He didn’t act as if he was bigger or better than any person. He was. I like many many other’s may have lost a friend, an idol, a person we thought so highly of. I also believe Hanks death helped a lot of people. He inspired me and continues to to this day. It’ll be 20 years since he died and the memory of #44 is bright and shining to this day. Not his death but him as a person. I hope all the kid’s out there wanting to fulfill a dream no matter if it’s on the basketball court or not read the book on Hank Gather’s life coming out at the beginning of the year. I can’t wait and one day my children will learn about Hank as he’s a man that any parent would be proud to have and a man who will continue to inspire people to set a goal and work hard to achieve it. As long as you have the Heart of a Lion anything in life is possible. Hank showed us that and although we lost him to soon still 20 years later he’s a part of my life. Rest in peace big man and Thank you for gracing all of us, albeit short, as you touched our lives.

  11. thebrotherreport says:

    March 4, 1990 will be etched in my mind forever. In 2007, I spoke to his mother briefly about the possibility of doing a book. You heard the emotion in her voice then as I requested her permission, I felt bad for even asking, I’ve decided not to pursue the book but I will honor Hank with every opportunity that presents itself.

    Thank you all for reading my work and keep Hank’s spirit alive
    LMU #44

  12. anyssa says:

    my cousin goes to LMU he got the BILL GATES SCHOLARSHIP!!!!

  13. Mike Roach says:

    To Mike Cervellino I say thank you for recalling Coach Westhead’s eulogy of Bankman “for points, for rebounds, for life” – that brings back 20 year old memories from Gerston Pavillion. I only interacted with Eric once or twice in the locker room but I remember the run and gun days and the love we had for our roaring Lions. Hank was our heart, the heart of a lion, and we lost something that terrible day. But we gained something from that loss, we gained the courage and the ability to recover from losing a piece of us that we all shared. I remember the tourney that year, and screaming for our beloved Lions as our boys beat NM State and demolished the fab five Michigan defending champs. Hank’s spirit was with the team that week. I remember going to Oakland and watching Bo and the boys in the Bay as they carried Hank’s spirit with them and showed the world what they were made of, and they let the world know who Hank was and what he was made of. I will carry those memories with me forever; they fill me with joy and sadness to this day, 20 years later.

  14. Ron Glover says:

    I just received an email from Kyle Keiderling today advising me that the book was released today.

    As is my custom I will give my annual tribute to Hank on this site March 4th.

    Twenty years to the day.

  15. Do you know how to reach Kiederling? I’m a sports author, and want to ask him a question about his publisher.

  16. Ron Glover says:

    I’ll look for his email address and forward it to you.

  17. dwayne a butler says:

    i remember growing up in Logan with some of the best ball players in the city.when Hank played in our leagues he would fill the park.i aslo remember him bringing the ball up court drinking a soda while a guy way defending him.Hank was one of the best to ever to come out of Phill hands down.now bring that up in a barber shop and see what will take place.

  18. Rhonda says:

    I’m so glad to find this reading on Hank Gathers. I was a freshman in high school at Westchester, Ca when Hank passed. It was so devastating for the community, I remember it just being a sad time, the only other time I can remember a time of such sadness was during the Los Angeles riots. Thanks for posting this, even though I’m like 4 years late on reading this.

    Will always remember Hank Gathers,