Remembering Hank. Archived 3/09/07


Next Thursday, two words will grab everyone’s attention – March Madness.

Those two words bring me to a name, Hank Gathers

Each year, my mind goes back to March 4, 1990. I was up watching games all day and Temple was playing UMass for the A-10 Championship, I went to bed before the game was over and I remember hearing that Hank had collapsed again, I remember saying to myself “God please let him pull through this again.”

The next morning my mom told me Hank was gone.

I was 17 years old, and by my most accounts a good ballplayer on my way to college. Growing up in North Philadelphia, I was a short walk from Temple University and along the way, I could stop over at 16th and Susquehanna Ave. Philadelphia was a hotbed for college basketball at the time; Lionel Simmons was the National Player of the Year and John Chaney was working his usual magic with the Temple Owls. In addition, there was plenty of young blood on the playgrounds honing their skills. Aaron McKie, Jerome Allen, Malik Rose, among others.

However, out in California, there was a two-man show moving at warp speed. Gathers and his teammate and close friend Bo Kimble had their own rendition of Showtime appearing on the campus of Loyola Marymount University. Coached by Paul Westhead, the Lions put up a shot an avg. of 7 seconds after the inbounds pass. No one would benefit from this style of play more than Gathers and Kimble. As a junior, Gathers would lead the nation in scoring and rebounding, (At the time only the 2nd person to do so) as a senior Kimble would lead the nation in scoring.

They made it look so easy, and since playing defense was not at a premium there; the goal was simple; try to outscore them. Watching LMU required wearing a seatbelt because you knew you were going to be in the passing lane for the entire ride.

Hank collapsed in December 1989 for the first time, but came back in time to play two games in Philadelphia against LaSalle and St. Joseph’s. On the second night, Kimble hit a three at the buzzer to give the Lions the victory. For most of us that would be the last time we saw Hank alive in person.

Three months later Hank was gone, and I along with everyone else was in shock. Forasmuch as basketball meant the world to Hank, it meant nothing to us in the days that followed. I saw the biggest men reduced to tears John Chaney, who is a personal hero of mine wept, Sonny Hill held Pooh Richardson whom he considers his son in his arms as he wept at Hank’s funeral. However, the image that sticks with me the most is one of Lionel Simmons weeping on the court once he got word of Hanks passing. My eyes are filling up as I relive these moments because it’s a deep cut and it still hurts. Hank played with and against some of the players that I mentioned, Simmons was from South Philly, some were from West Philly, but the majority were from North Philly and they went to one another’s part of town to play, from mere competition, a brotherhood was formed.

There is a mural of Hank’s in his old neighborhood at 25th and Diamond Sts. in North Philadelphia covering the entire side of a building, a recreation center in his honor on the same street. Sonny Hill named one of his many leagues after Hank.

For some reason, I feel the need to tell the world about Hank Gathers, and what he meant to me. I don’t know if it’s because I saw him play on the playgrounds and I felt a connection with him through basketball. Is it because he was one of us meaning he was from an area of the city where dreams are just that dreams, and he as someone that came along and proved that wasn’t the case. Maybe it’s because I look at his life as unfulfilled, but who am I to say whose life is fulfilled. That is one of the beauties of writing, instead of putting this in a journal and tucking it away in a drawer; I’m sharing it with people that may feel the same way the world. Even in writing this, I know I haven’t done enough.

I feel like I have to keep the torch burning for Hank.

I’ve made a commitment to myself to one day sit down with the Gathers family and those that knew him best and have them tell their stories about Hank.

What saddens me the most is that Gathers was not a victim of random violence as Chicago high school phenom Benji Wilson, and he did not suffer the fate of Len Bias. Gathers had a heart condition that could not be helped.

I read the story of Wilson and how one of his teammates just stopped living after Wilson was killed, he would visit his gravesite once a week. But other than that, his life just stopped.

In the days following March 4, 1990, I can relate to those feelings.


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