Remembering Hank Gathers 30 Years Later

On March 4, 1990, Loyola Marymount University senior power forward Hank Gathers collapsed due to a sudden cardiac arrest at mid-court during a West Coast Conference Tournament game on live television. He was taken to a hospital where he passed away a short time later. He was just 23 years old.

An autopsy later revealed that Gathers did not take his prescribed heart medicine for at least eight hours before his death and likely longer.

After playing one season at USC and being highly sought out of Dobbins Technical High School in Philadelphia, Gathers transferred to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif.

In the 1989 season, as a junior, Gathers became just the second player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both scoring and rebounding in the same year.

He was by most accounts going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the ensuing 1990 NBA draft, which would ultimately see Derrick Coleman go No. 1 to the New Jersey Nets and a guy named Gary Payton No. 2 to the Seattle Supersonics.

After Gathers’s death, the remainder of the WCC tournament was cancelled. Loyola was awarded the conference’s tournament bid since they had won the regular season title. They made it to the Elite Eight before losing to UNLV, the team that would go on to win the national championship.

This past weekend, many of Gathers’s former teammates gathered for the unveiling of a statue of Gathers outside Loyola Marymount University’s Gersten Pavilion.

“Hank Gathers was a superstar while he was alive, being recognized all over Los Angeles and nationwide,” Bo Kimble, who was a teammate of Gathers in high school, at USC and then Loyola, told reporters on Saturday. “He was a 1,000-watt light walking into a room with 100-watt light bulbs. He just lit up. Hank was extraordinarily happy, and I said this often: Hank did in 23 years what some athletes and some people have never achieved in 100 years of life, to be an iconic figure, a person who was respected on and off the court, a person who was living his dream.”

Kimble himself was the eighth overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1990 draft. Kimble played just two seasons in L.A. and one season with the New York Knicks.

Gathers‘s No. 44 jersey was retired by the school in 2000.

There are many similarities and comparisons being made recently to another guy from Philly who went to L.A. and made it big, just on a greater scale. That man is Kobe Bryant. Both started out on a similar path of being highly-touted in high school and, if not for the tragic event of 30 years ago today, Hank Gathers could have achieved his dream of playing in the NBA.

For many colleges, success and utter domination doesn’t always translate into the NBA. However, Gathers, if you were lucky to have seen him play, had it. He would have been a great NBA player. If you’re unfamiliar with him or not old enough to remember him, take a minute and Google Hank Gathers and watch the highlights and judge for yourself.

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