LIFE AFTER DEATH; A DECADE LATER, DEATH OF GATHERS REMAINS SURREAL.
First comes the shock of time.
So much of it has passed, yet there is the sad realization how ineffective it's been at blurring the images.
The death of Hank Gathers remains a memory sharply in focus.
Nearly 10 years have passed since Gathers, the charismatic forward who had led the nation in scoring and rebounding the previous season, collapsed on the floor at Loyola Marymount in a West Coast Conference tournament semifinal and was pronounced dead an hour and 41 minutes later.
For family, friends, teammates, school officials, and those who watched from afar, sadly at first and then with numbing amazement as the Lions went on a surreal postseason run, Gathers' passing remains vivid and close.
``It's never out of my mind,'' said Brian Quinn, the former LMU athletic director and now the department's main fund-raiser. He's in his office, looking up at pictures he keeps of Gathers and Bo Kimble on his wall.
``I think about it all the time. It's still there. It'll never go away.''
Kimble was the other half of the ``Bo and Hank Show'' that first rocked Dobbins Tech High in Philadelphia. Together they moved west to USC, and when coach Stan Morrison was let go after their freshman season, they both transferred to LMU.
When Gathers collapsed with his heart condition near center court on March 4, 1990, Kimble stood a few feet away. Despite the shock and shroud of emotion, the Lions elected to play in the NCAA Tournament. There the small Jesuit-run school both stunned and captured the hearts of the collegiate basketball world.
Kimble led the Lions on an amazing run. Using coach Paul Westhead's frenetic fastbreak, full-court press ``system,'' LMU upset defending champion Michigan in the second round and blew into the Elite Eight.
To honor Gathers, so horrid a free-throw shooter he switched hands and tried shooting them left-handed, Kimble attempted his first free throw of all three tournament games left-handed. And made every one.
Grief empowered the whole team.
``People talk about that time to me pretty much every day,'' Kimble said. ``I'm so accustomed to talking about it, it really does feel as if were yesterday.''
Lives forever changed
LMU is retiring the jerseys of Gathers and Kimble on Feb. 19 at halftime of a home game against Pepperdine. Kimble plans to return for the ceremony. Gathers' mother, Lucille, will be there. Westhead, Morrison and Dobbins coach Rich Yankowitz have been invited.
If memories have left the events fresh, much has changed since that season 10 years ago. Not all that followed was as heartwarming as the Lions' storybook postseason run.
The Gathers family filed a $32.5 million lawsuit that named seven doctors, Westhead, Quinn, the team trainer, the university and three medical practices. The family, apparently resentful over how Kimble had emerged as a national hero, stopped speaking to him. Fearful schools began asking athletes to sign waivers before playing, even at the intramural level.
Lucille was so upset with Kimble that when Dobbins wanted to retire the jerseys of Gathers and Kimble in 1990, she demanded separate ceremonies. Kimble said things weren't patched up with Lucille until last fall when he played in the ninth annual Hank Gathers Game at Dobbins.
David Spencer, who as an assistant coach for Morrison had recruited Gathers and Kimble to USC, remained a mentor to the two players after they transferred. Later, for a time, he became Kimble's agent, but was also close to Lucille.
``It was just such a painful thing,'' Spencer said. ``She had lost her son, and here's Bo doing all these things. I don't even want to think about what it must have been like.
``Bo's attitude about that was, whatever it took Lucille time-wise, nobody should really question it - she lost her son. He never held any ill feelings towards the family and just always hoped it was going to work itself out with the passage of time. And that's what's happened.''
This time, LMU had no trouble arranging to retire their jerseys together.
``The relationship had been strained for years,'' Kimble said. ``There was just been a lot of miscommunication, but all that's in the past. We're back together, and that's the most important thing.
``If Hank were here today, he would want that. We love Hank Gathers' family, they love us, and I look forward to sharing more positive moments with them.''
Gathers' family includes a son, Aaron Crump, who lives with his mother, Marva, in Philadelphia. She and Gathers never married. Aaron Crump is now 16 and a reserve point guard at Cheltenham High School, a suburb just northwest of Philadelphia and light years from the projects where Gathers grew up.
Unlike his powerfully built, 6-foot-7 father, Crump is a still-growing 5-11 and 155 pounds. His basketball bloodlines, while not secret, are not known to all at his high school.
``There's a good percentage of people who are unaware of it,'' said Cheltenham coach Scott Eveslage. ``He doesn't promote it. But most of the staff and faculty are aware. I think both he and his mom wanted to keep it kind of low key. There are going to be great expectations for him. He's real proud of his dad, but he's into trying to do his own thing.''
Eveslage said his mother has Crump undergo annual heart checks. At one time there was a concern he might have a slight irregular heartbeat, but it is currently undetectable.
While Crump may lack his father's frame, Eveslage said his personality would sound familiar.
``He's a kid a lot of people pull for,'' Eveslage said. ``He is a driven kid, as far as basketball goes. He's an intense player, yet adds a fun-loving nature to this team.''
The Gathers touch
At the center of it all, of course, was Gathers. Affable and dynamic in personality, intense and highly competitive as a player. Gathers was someone who created an impact, in the class room, on the court, in private, or in front of a TV camera.
He could lapse into his Ali imitation, surprise some by speaking Russian, be the prankster or flex a bicep and declare, ``I'm the strongest man in the world!''
``Hank had a great ear for mimicking people,'' said Morrison, now the athletic director at UC Riverside. ``One time I came into the room and my team burst out in hysterics - because Hank had been up at the board imitating me in a pregame voice. He was bigger than life.''
He came from one of the roughest areas in Philadelphia, from the slums he vowed to take his family away from. There he honed his game, a largely self-made player. The gentleness about him was no veneer, but it concealed his street-tough interior.
``You know how tough a school that was at Dobbins Tech? I called one time and was talking to the principal,'' Morrison said. ``In the middle of our conversation, we're talking about how Hank and Bo are doing on their English, and he says, `Stan, I'm going to have to call you back.' I asked what was up. He said, `Somebody just got shot in the neck out in the hall.' ''
Despite his demeanor, Gathers' background and drive to succeed served him well on the court. At 6-7 he was short for a power forward, but his game was huge.
Spencer recalls when LMU went up against Louisiana State in Gathers' senior season. LSU had 7-footers Shaquille O'Neal and Stanley Roberts.
``The first seven times Hank shoots the ball in the game on network TV, either Shaq or Roberts blocks his shot,'' Spencer said. ``Seven times against the player who had led the nation in scoring.
``Guess what he finished up with for the game? Forty-eight. That tells you everything you need to know about Hank Gathers. That was his personality. Just to be nails. I'm coming at you. I don't care. Oh yeah, you blocked that one? How 'bout this one? That was him in a nutshell.''
Chip Shaefer was LMU's trainer and strength coach. Shaefer was one of the first by Gathers' side when he collapsed in that conference game against Portland.
``When I think back on that time, the first thing I think of is just what a great person he was,'' said Shaefer, now the Lakers' athletic performance coordinator. ``Just a wonderful personality.
``He played so hard and with so much heart. He was a privilege to watch. There was some question whether he had enough ability to play in the NBA, but I wouldn't put anything past him.''
Gathers' outgoing personality was such that those closest to him reflect less on his tragic end and the emotions that swirled around his death, than on simply Gathers the person.
``A lot of times when people come up to me they're a little hesitant, because they don't want to bring up a sad moment,'' Kimble said. ``But when I think of Hank, I really don't think of the sad part of him not being here.
``If anyone wanted me to reminisce, that's OK with me, because I'm in tune with one of the greatest memories of my life. I actually embrace and love it.''
The postseason run
After Gathers died at age 23 of a heart condition that remained disputed years later, there was the ugly aftermath of lawsuits, opportunists, accusations, betrayal and controversy that threatened to taint his legacy.
But immediately after his death came a postseason run by LMU that was as dramatic as it was unlikely.
Though it was actually Kimble who led the nation in scoring that season, Gathers was considered their leader and best player. Without him, few gave the small Catholic school hidden near the Los Angeles airport much chance.
Yet Westhead, who had coached the Lakers to their first championship with Magic Johnson 10 years earlier, already had brought an unfamiliar spotlight to LMU with his all-out pressing, running style that blew by opponents. The Lions became the highest-scoring team in the country. During the Gathers-Kimble years, Loyola scored more than 100 points in 73 of its 95 games.
It was a unique system, run by a unique group of players that included Jeff Fryer, Terrell Lowery, Chris Knight, Tom Peabody and Tony Walker. A group that bought into Westhead's approach and played at full speed the entire game, an unrelenting tornado on hardwood.
``It was exhilarating, it was wild and it was fun,'' Morrison said. ``It was just amazing to watch it unfold. It electrified the country.''
No one was certain if the Lions would be emotionally devastated or inspired when they opened the NCAA Tournament at the Long Beach Arena against New Mexico State. Or anticipated Kimble stepping to the line for he first time, and letting fly a left-handed free throw to honor Gathers that drew only net.
``That day in Long Beach, I'm telling you there were grown men sitting there crying openly,'' Spencer said. ``Just couldn't contain the emotions. I get shivers just thinking about it.''
Then a decided underdog against Michigan, the Lions not only upset the defending champions, they swamped them 149-115. They were a team playing almost outside themselves. A nation was captivated.
The Lions next defeated Alabama by two to advance to the Elite Eight, before their talent finally caught up to their desire and purpose and they lost 131-101 to eventual NCAA champion UNLV, a team that also beat them in their season opener.
Yet a decade later, the mark LMU left on college basketball is fresh.
``I think it's one of the most remarkable sports stories we've ever had in this nation,'' Quinn said. ``I'm appalled when they pick the greatest sports moments and there will be some stupid NBA game or some dumb pro football game. I don't think any of those even begin to hold a candle to what happened here.
``It was really special - the emotion, kids pulling together, spirit and friendship. I just can't think of a more uplifting sports story than what happened after his death.''
A decade later
Bill Husak is the athletic director at LMU now, though there are times he must wonder if he was here all the time.
``The emotional impact that year had is relived here every day,'' Husak said. ``More days than not, something is mentioned about 1990 - that team, Bo, Hank. It left such an emotional anchor to people who were here at that time, that it's constantly brought up.''
Kimble spent three years in the NBA and last fall started a non-profit foundation to refurbish abandoned homes in the Philadelphia area, beginning with those back in his old neighborhood.
From the two lawsuits that were settled, Aaron Crump grossed $1.5 million that was placed in a trust. The first $100,000 he was allowed to spend was to buy a house out of the Rayond Rosen Projects.
Gathers' mother, Lucille, grossed $895,000 from the settlements and also moved out of the dilapidated row houses of Rosen and has since remarried.
``Gathers was a guy whose full dream was to play in the NBA, make his fortune and take his loved ones out of the abject poverty they lived in North Philadelphia through his talent in basketball,'' Schaefer said. ``That was his determination.''
His full dream was cut much too short, of course, but in the end, he did get them out.
``I'm happy for that,'' Quinn said. ``If there's any positive or good news from anything, it's that.''
HANK GATHERS CAREER STATISTICS
The jerseys of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble will be retired at halftime of LMU's game against Pepperdine on Feb. 19. Tickets are available by calling the LMU ticket office at (310) 338-5466.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
A quick look at what has happened to some of those impacted by Hank Gathers' death a decade later.
--Paul Westhead: LMU's head coach never duplicated his success from that season. His frenetic style failed to translate with the Denver Nuggets when he returned to the NBA, and later at George Mason University.
Was in his third season as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors when head coach P.J. Carlesimo was fired this season. The Shakespearean scholar was re-assigned to a nebulous scouting position and moved back to Los Angeles last month.
--Bo Kimble: A first-round draft pick by the Clippers who signed a $7.5 million contract, but his NBA career never took off. Was traded to the Knicks in his third season and negotiated a buyout at its end.
Spent most of the next four years playing in the CBA and in Europe. Officially retired last fall, has started a foundation that rebuilds abandoned homes in the Philadelphia area for the needy. Married one year ago.
--Aaron Crump: Gather's son was a 6-year-old at the time of his death. Now 16, he's a junior at Cheltenham High, just northwest of Philadelphia, where he is a 5-foot-11, 155-pound reserve point guard.
At 18, the Orphan's Court in Philadelphia will release to him the money he received from the settlements. He grossed $1.5 million eight years ago.
--Lucille Gathers: His mother also moved out of the projects. She grossed $895,000 from the settlements. Remarried and is now Lucille Gathers Cheeseboro.
After years of bitterness toward Kimble, their families finally got back together just last fall when she saw Kimble play in the ninth annual Hank Gathers Game at Dobbins Tech High.
--Jeff Fryer: After graduating from LMU, the Lions' third-leading scorer and 3-point specialist played for a while in Europe before returning to the L.A. area, working at his alma mater and the UC Irvine fund-raising department.
He eventually decided to return to the court and currently plays professionally for the Neuwerk Lions of the German West Regional League.
--Brian Quinn: Remained the LMU athletic director until 1998. Currently the executive director for athletic development, the department's chief fund-raiser.
--Chip Schaefer: The LMU trainer and strength coach, he left the next season to become head trainer of the Chicago Bulls and was there for all six title runs. This season he rejoined coach Phil Jackson and became the Lakers' athletic performance coordinator.
--LMU basketball: Fell off the college basketball map. Has never returned to the NCAA Tournament. In the past eight years has had seven losing seasons. This year's team is 2-18.
- Steve Dilbeck
--Career points: 2,490
--Career scoring average 28.0
--Career field goals: 1,037
--Career field-goal percentage: 59 percent
--Career free-throws attempted: 745.
--Single-season field goals: 419 (1989); also No. 3 with 3124 in 1990 and No. 4 with 304 in 1988.
--Single-season free-throws attempted: 315 in 1989.
--Single-game rebounds: 29 vs. USIU in 1989 (also had 27, 26 and 23 in a game).
--Single-game field goals: 24 (for 37) vs. Nevada in 1988.
6 photos, 4 boxes
Photo:(1 -- 5 -- color) On the cover: Images from 1990, from top to bottom: Hank Gathers, left, and Bo Kimble wave; Gathers holds the WCC trophy with his mother at his side; Gathers sits up after collapsing on the court on March 4, 1990, an image that appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, moments before his death; family and teammates embrace at Gathers' service, during which his mother Lucille mourned.
(6) no caption (Hank Gathers playing)
Box: (1) A closer look at Hank Gathers (see text)
(2) Tickets (see text)
(3) Where are they now (see text)
(4) Gathers' Numbers (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Article Type:||Statistical Data Included|
|Date:||Feb 6, 2000|
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