A Brief History
On March 4, 1990, the sporting world was shocked when Hank Gathers, age 23, died during an NCAA Division I basketball game between Loyola Marymount University (his team) and the University of Portland.
Gathers was a blue chip basketball player, and in the 1988-1989 season had become only the second player in NCAA history (Xavier McDaniel and Kurt Thomas being the only other 2 players to have achieved the feat) to lead the nation in both scoring (32.7 points per game) and rebounding (13.7 rebounds per game). Originally enrolled at the University of Southern California, Gathers had transferred after only one year at USC. The USC basketball program had been disrupted by the firing of the basketball coach, and the new coach demanded his players answer if they would remain at USC by a deadline, and that new coach, George Raveling, revoked the scholarships of the players that did not respond in time, including Gathers. Raveling made the politically incorrect statement that “You can’t let the Indians run the reservation.” (No wonder players left!)
A 6 foot 7 inch forward wearing number 44, Gathers had collapsed during a December 1989 game against the University of California at Santa Barbara and a heart condition was diagnosed with an exercise induced high heartbeat rate. Prescribed medicine, Gathers later said the medicine detracted from his performance on the basketball court, and the dosage was lowered. It is suspected Gather later did not even take his medicine on game days, and he repeatedly missed medical appointments as well. On February 3, 1990, Gathers appeared to be at peak form against Louisiana State University when he scored 48 points and hauled down 13 rebounds. In that nationally televised game Gathers had been guarded by the great Shaquille O’Neal and a future first round NBA draft choice, Stanley Roberts. Gathers seemed to be fine, as his team rolled up 7 wins in 8 games, and Hank pulling down a career high 30 rebounds in a single game.
Tragedy struck during a West Coast Conference playoff game against the Portland Pilots of Portland University, when Gathers collapsed after dunking an alley oop pass. Stating that “I don’t want to lay down” the young athlete stopped breathing and died. Video of the tragic event was broadcast by ESPN.
In the aftermath of such a stunning tragedy, the autopsy found Gathers to have suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of part of the heart that is known to cause death in young athletes. Hank’s family sued the University for $32.5 million, and settled for $1.4 million, while settling for an additional $1 million from Hank’s cardiologist.
Hank Gathers is remembered by a 1992 made for television movie, Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story. He was also posthumously named a second team All American. His career statistics of 28 points per game and 11 rebounds per game place him among the elite college basketball players. During the 2016 NBA playoffs, the memory of Hank Gathers was invoked when Chris Bosh was urged to retire due to recurring blood clots, lest he suffer a premature death.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you believe the University and doctor were at fault in the untimely death of Hank Gathers? Should the family have been entitled to the law suit settlement amounts, or was the fault with Hank himself? Feel free to give us your opinion on this subject in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Braverman, Charles, dir. Final Shot – The Hank Gathers Story. Tango Entertainment, 2006. DVD.
Keiderling, Kyle. Heart of A Lion- The Life, Death And Legacy Of Hank Gathers. Morning Star Books, 2010.