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Shelley Smith
March 04, 1991
The tragic death of Hank Gathers has begotten lawsuits and animosity
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March 04, 1991

A Bitter Legacy

The tragic death of Hank Gathers has begotten lawsuits and animosity

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Tipoff was Barely 45 minutes away, and nobody-not his mother, Lucille, not his aunt Carole, not his brothers, Derrick and Charles, not his coach at Loyola Marymount, Paul Westhead, not his teammate Bo Kimble—could find Hank Gathers.

Loyola Marymount assistant Jay Hillock was concerned. "Have you seen him?" he asked fellow Lion assistant Judas Prada as they stood at the Gersten Pavilion on the Loyola Marymount campus in Los Angeles. "He's usually here skipping rope by now."

Just then, still well before the start of the West Coast Conference tournament semifinal game between Loyola Marymount and the University of Portland on March 4,1990, into the gym walked Gathers, grinning wildly, his white uniform clinging to his muscled chest, which was beaded with sweat.

"He was out on the track running sprints," Prada said as he turned to watch Gathers wave to some friends.


Flames leap from a metal barrel and pierce the dark Philadelphia night. A cluster of men huddles around the makeshift heater, stamping their feet on the frozen pavement. The flames make the broken windows in the burned-out buildings around them glisten like jagged crystal. Gutted cars, some sitting on cinder blocks with their wheels bare, line both sides of the narrow street. A car stops at the corner. A man appears from a darkened doorway, flashes a handful of money and approaches the passenger's side of the car. The window is lowered. An exchange is made. The car drives off, and the man disappears back into the shadows.

Not far away, Lucille Gathers, 44, sits in a crumbling two-story brick row house. Her yard is littered with broken bottles and paper bags from fast-food restaurants. Her front door is covered with bumper stickers from Hofstra, Massachusetts and a dozen other universities that at one time coveted the talents of her basketball-playing sons. It has been a year since Hank Gathers died too young during that Loyola Marymount-Portland game, taking with him too many dreams for too many people. And so Lucille, surrounded by the deprivation of North Philadelphia, sits and waits in the house where she has lived for 24 years. Waits for a chance to get out.

Knowing this, knowing how much Lucille and the rest of the Gathers family had counted on Hank to take them from this place, perhaps it is easier to understand some of the ugliness that has pervaded the aftermath of his death. Maybe it is easier to understand why they have hired Bruce Fagel, a Los Angeles lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice cases—and publicity—and filed a $32.5 million lawsuit against Loyola Marymount, Westhead and the doctors and trainers who treated Hank, both when an irregular heartbeat was discovered after he fainted on the court during a game against UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 9, 1989, and after he collapsed in the game against Portland, and why the lawsuit has produced, so far, only new wounds.

Maybe it is also easier to understand why Marva Crump, the mother of Hank's seven-year-old son, Aaron, was selling T-shirts, with DOING IT FOR HANK 44 inscribed on the front, for $5 each on a Philadelphia street corner last July, a few months after she had wept hysterically at Hank's funeral service; why she has hired her own attorneys, filed her own lawsuit against the same parties; and why, according to an acquaintance, she now instructs Aaron to refer to Gathers only as "Daddy"—which Crump denies—when before it was just Hank.

Maybe it all makes sense when you see Kimble, Hank's teammate through high school and college, pull his 1991 silver BMW into the driveway of his palatial new home in Sherman Oaks, with its kidney-shaped pool and postcard view. And maybe you can comprehend why Kimble, now a rookie guard for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, and the family barely speak to each other and why Lucille won't allow Hank's high school number at Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia to be retired on the same day that Kimble's number is retired.

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