Remembering Hank Gathers 30 years after his tragic death during tournament game

·3 min read

Loyola Marymount University unveiled a statue over the weekend to commemorate basketball great Hank Gathers.

Gathers died of a heart condition in 1990 after collapsing during a WCC tournament game against Portland. Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of his death.

LMU revealed the statue in a Saturday ceremony in front of the team’s Los Angeles arena Gersten Pavilion. The Lions also wore 1989-90 throwback uniforms in their 69-67 loss to San Francisco.

Gathers a force on historic LMU teams

Gathers, a 6-7 forward, starred alongside Bo Kimble on the iconic LMU teams from 1987-90 known for their fast pace and high-scoring offense.

Head coach Paul Westhead’s philosophy focused on a fast break offense that emphasized shot attempts early in the shot clock and encouraged 3-point shooting.

On defense, Westhead incorporated a full-court press, resulting in a frantic, high-octane brand of basketball that set the NCAA scoring record with an astounding 122.4 points per game in the 1989-90 season. That team also gave up and NCAA-high 108.1 points per game on defense.

As a junior during the 1988-89 season, Gathers led the nation in scoring and rebounding with 32.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. He entered his senior season as a national player of the year candidate and potential NBA lottery pick.

Hank Gathers died at 23 years old after collapsing on the basketball court. (Tim de Frisco /Allsport/Getty Images)
Hank Gathers died at 23 years old after collapsing on the basketball court. (Tim de Frisco /Allsport/Getty Images)

Gathers’ heart condition

Gathers collapsed during a Dec. 9, 1989 matchup against UC Santa Barbara. He was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and prescribed beta blocker Inderal to control his condition.

Doctors cleared Gathers to play while taking the beta blocker. But he reportedly reduced his intake of the drug over time because it sapped him of his energy.

Gathers recovered from the incident to excel again as a senior, averaging 29 points and 10.8 rebounds as LMU’s primary force in the paint on the team that averaged 122.4 points. The Lions played in several high-profile games that season, including a 148-141 loss to Shaquille O’Neal’s LSU Tigers.

Second collapse proves fatal

He didn’t have another on-court incident that season until his fatal collapse on March 4, 1990 against Portland. Gathers fell to the floor in the middle of gameplay that day at Gersten Pavilion shortly after sending home an alley-oop dunk.

He sat up for a moment after laying on the court before collapsing again as players and coaches came to his aid. His mother rushed from the stands to join medical personnel as they tended Gathers and it became apparent something serious was wrong.

Gathers was carried off the court on a stretcher and never recovered. He was later determined to have died from the heart-muscle disorder hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was 23 years old. A medical exam determined that he did not have any trace of his prescribed heart medication in his system at the time of his death.

LMU’s NCAA tournament run in wake of tragedy

The Lions went on to play in the NCAA tournament in the following weeks, inspired by Gathers’ death. Kimble dedicated his free throw routine to Gathers in LMU’s first-round matchup with New Mexico State, switching to his left hand to shoot in honor of his fallen teammate.

The 11th-seeded Lions advanced to the Elite Eight with victories over New Mexico State, Michigan and Alabama before losing to eventual champion UNLV.

Gathers was survived by his son Aaron Crump.

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