A Somber 25th Anniversary for the Lions

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist

Throughout the course of the 2015 WCC Basketball Championships, #WCChoops Columnist John Crumpacker will be posting mini-profiles and features to go along with his daily "What We Learned" postings.

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LAS VEGAS - The West Coast Conference observes a somber anniversary this week. It was 25 years ago March 4 that Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers collapsed and died during a WCC Tournament game against Portland.

Bill Johnson, the radio voice of Portland basketball, remembers the events of that day at Gersten Pavilion on the campus of LMU as if it were yesterday instead of 1990.

"I remember his mother came down to the floor. She said, 'Somebody please help my boy!' That's exactly what she said,'' Johnson recalled. "It still sends chills down my spine 25 years later. They didn't have defibrillators then. They put him on a stretcher. I remember one of his arms was hanging off the stretcher. I knew in my heart Hank was gone. I just knew it.''

The conference's athletic directors got together and decided to cancel the Portland-LMU game and the rest of the tournament as well. The high-high-high-scoring team of Paul Westhead, the regular season winner, was declared the WCC tournament champion, overwhelmed with grief as the NCAA Tournament awaited. Bo Kimble shooting free throws with his left hand in honor of his fallen friend and teammate can still be found on YouTube.

"Every time I walk in Gersten Pavilion, I can't help myself, I look at the point on the floor where Hank went down,'' Johnson said. "All that floods back in my mind. That would be the all-time low point of my career as a broadcaster, to see a player die in front of you.''

Johnson happened to see Gathers several hours before the game started. Johnson and his brother went to the gym early to prepare and were alone until Gathers came in after running a brisk lap around the track just outside of Gersten.

"Hank Gathers went out to run a quick 440 to break a sweat,'' Johnson said. "He came in and grabbed a ball and started shooting. One of his shots banged off the front of the rim and rolled under the table where we were. I reached under the table and tossed it back to Hank. One-and-a-half hours later, he was dead.''

As Johnson recalled that March 4 game a quarter-century ago, Gathers had slammed home a thunderous alley-oop dunk off a pass from Terrell Lowry and was heading back on defense when he collapsed. Earlier in the season he had fainted in a game and was put on medication.

"He went down, like somebody had taken the wind out of him,'' Johnson said. "He just slumped to the floor. He went into a spasm. You could have heard a pin drop. It's a radio broadcast, you can't just stop talking.''

Johnson said he remembers one of Gathers' shoes hitting the court repeatedly while he was in the spasm on the floor, calling it "eerie.''

"I was told Hank took himself off the medication before the tournament because it made him feel lethargic,'' Johnson said.

The tragedy of Gathers' shocking death forced a change across all levels of sports with the inclusion of defibrillators at all events, such as the one by the scorer's table at the Orleans Arena for the 2015 WCC Tournament.

Editor's Note: Loyola Marymount's official website, LMULions.com has posted outstanding coverage of the anniversary of the passing of Gathers and the lasting impact it has had on the program and the university. Read the complete story HERE.


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