Remember Hank Gathers?
In 1989, I was a teenager from New Jersey enthralled with dreams of playing during March Madness at a major Division I college. However, in the interim, I had to slake said thirst for glory through the television’s all-seeing eye.
Loyola Marymount University was all the rage back then. They played a style of basketball that dictated shots be put up early in the shot clock and utilized the three-pointer as a primary weapon rather than an offensive afterthought late in a game.
That exciting offensive philosophy coupled with a trapping defensive style forced opposing teams to play faster than they normally would and game scores quickly ballooned out of control in LMU’s favor.
At the heart of that offense were two Philly friends who transferred from the University of Southern California; Bo Kimble at shooting guard and Hank Gathers at power forward.
READ MORE: 25 Years Later: Remembering Hank Gathers
The duo would alternate leading the NCAA in scoring in 1989 and 1990 and though Bo Kimble was a very slick scorer, it was Gathers’ tenacity, athleticism and rebounding ability that had NBA scouts salivating.
But what really had people flipping their respective lids was a 49-point explosion against LSU’s Stanley Roberts and Shaquille O’Neal, both of whom tried to keep him off the glass to no avail.
On March 4, 1990, Hank Gathers collapsed after catching an alley-oop from teammate Terrell Lowery.
He even made an attempt to stand up. At first, it seemed like everything was going to be okay. Indeed, he had collapsed before and in my teenage mind, it seemed like a certainty that he was going to be okay.
But he has pronounced dead at a local hospital not long after. He was only 23-years-old. Though it was obvious that athletes were human beings, of course, it still seemed to my young mind that they were special, different, and not beholden to any of the physiological laws that haunted us mere mortals.
But that certainly was not the case. Gathers was pronounced dead by the same network that seemingly aired video of his collapse on a loop. It was painfully apparent that athletes were human, and those who had a physical ailment that affected the heart, were even more vulnerable than the average Joe Schmo.
Thoughts on Hank, Keyontae and The NCAA
When I watched ESPN broadcast the video of the collapse of University of Florida standout swingman Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game against intrastate rival Florida State. It was immediately theorized that Johnson’s heart had been affected by COVID-19, but that wasn’t confirmed until just a few days ago when a diagnosis of acute myocarditis was announced.
Prior to his collapse and following his COVID-19 diagnosis over the summer, Johnson had to pass multiple heart tests, including an electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram as mandated by the SEC COVID rules.
In December 1989, Hank Gathers was diagnosed with exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia just a season after foregoing the NBA draft to return to Loyola Marymount for his senior season.
In February of 1990, Gathers requested and was granted permission to take half doses of his then prescribed 80 mg under the condition that he return for testing after a few days, but the doctor would later say Hank never showed up for that appointment.
In March, the cardiologist in charge of treating Hank says he instructed the 23-year-old to play in the West Coast Conference tournament and come in for testing afterward.
“1,2,1,2…Some Dreams Stay Dreams, Some Dreams Come True”
But those with knowledge of the affair believe Hank did not take his medication on game days.
When Johnson collapsed on the court during the game against Florida State University, after catching a thunderous dunk not unlike Hank’s, I was compelled to ask who will take responsibility for putting Keyontae Johnson at risk?
Yes, the young man went through all the prescribed COVID protocols and heart tests after his illness and before stepping foot on the basketball court, but he collapsed anyway.
“They” will say that a 21-year-old kid from Norfolk, Virginia — one who was projected to go high in the NBA draft next year — would have the mental and emotional wherewithal to decide for himself whether it was worth going hard and risking an exercise-induced cardiological event to play basketball.
“They” are the same people who tried to say that Hank Gathers was making an informed decision when he decided to have his medication reduced because it made him feel sluggish and took away from his athleticism and otherworldly anticipation.
It’s no doubt that Gathers had his family in mind when he decided to try to finish the WCC Tournament, the NCAA tournament and become a lottery pick.
But no one was strong enough to say “Hey, Hank, sit out a season and see what’s what.” They let Hank do what HANK wanted to do. He died because of it.
Johnson was likely thinking the same thing after standing out as a sophomore last season. Thinking that he wanted to help his family, thinking he wanted to change their circumstances, thinking that it was worth risking his life to play basketball.
Hell, I know I would have!
We currently sit at a precipice of legalities and finger-pointing regarding who is acting in the best interests of student-athletes, the overwhelming majority of whom will NEVER play professionally.
The coaches are getting paid, the AD is getting paid, the arena is getting paid, but the KIDS are NOT.
The NCAA Stay Doing Dumb Sh*t
The NCAA has decided that playing is worth the risk so that a bunch of rich white men can continue getting their million-dollar salaries off the backs of student-athletes. Then comically, the governing body has the nerve to say that these young men DO NOT deserve to be paid for their services out of the other side of their collectively crooked mouths.
Basketball is not worth risking your life for when most college players will never go pro. That’s where the exploitation comes in. Get the kids all jazzed up on team spirit, school pride and a pro pipe dream during a pandemic, then tell them about how they’re adding normality to the lives of the fans.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff, vendors, groundskeepers, security, broadcasters, and athletic department are all getting PAID. They don’t have to wait to go pro, they’re already salaried, but whether I’m a projected lottery pick, overseas bound or destined for streetball glory after college, basketball ain’t worth risking one’s life for the sake of school pride, or any other pride for that matter.
RIP Hank Gathers and a speedy recovery to Keyontae Johnson.