- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THE DEATH OF A DREAM
After collapsing on the court at the Gersten Pavilion during a game against UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 9, Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers walked into the locker room, slumped to his knees and sobbed. He was crying not only because he was scared, but also because he feared his collapse might have punctured the dreams of many others.
Peter Priamos, a Los Angeles attorney who befriended Gathers five years ago, followed him into the locker room that night. "I told him, 'It's O.K., we'll find out what it is,' " Priamos said last week. "He looked up at me and said, 'You don't understand. I just blew the NBA.' "
Gathers, who died during a game on March 4 after he again collapsed on the Loyola court, ached for the chance to prove himself in the pros. He also wanted to earn the kind of money that would allow him to take his family out of the Philadelphia ghetto where he was raised. Gathers was, in fact, counting on it. His family—from his mother, Lucille, to his three brothers, to his aunt Carol, to his six-year-old son, Aaron—was counting on it as well.
Now the family will count on Hank in a different kind of court. Last Friday, three days before Gathers was buried in Philadelphia, the family announced that it would file a "seven-figure" lawsuit against those it deemed responsible for his death. "We had planned on waiting until after the funeral to announce this," said the Gatherses' attorney, Bruce Fagel of Beverley Hills, who is also a licensed doctor. "But the purpose of this press conference is that up to this point, the only information that has been released, 90 percent of it is wrong."
On March 6 the Los Angeles Times quoted an unidentified cardiologist as saying Gathers had been advised not to play basketball, had missed a treadmill stress test the week before his death and was suspected of not taking his heart medicine the last week of his life. Fagel said that Gathers was never advised to quit playing, that he did not miss a treadmill test and that he had been seen by family members taking his medicine. And Albert Gersten Jr., the Los Angeles real estate developer who underwrote the building of the basketball arena on the Loyola campus, said, "Hank was with me Friday [March 2] to watch my eight-year-old son play basketball, and I watched him take his pill out, break it in half and swallow it. If that's not taking medicine, I don't know what is."
Fagel said the suit, expected to be filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this week, will question whether proper procedure was followed directly after Gathers collapsed. Why, for example, wasn't the specially-purchased de-fibrillating machine, which restores the heart's rhythm and was kept on the sidelines during all of Loyola's games after Gathers's first collapse, used on the court immediately upon Gathers's second collapse instead of minutes later outside the gym? And should Gathers have been cleared to play at all after the Dec. 9 episode? The suit will also charge that someone within the Loyola athletic department pressured Gathers's doctors into reducing his dosage of the heart-stabilizing drug Inderal because it was affecting Gathers's play. School officials maintain that everything that could be done medically was done for Gathers before and after the fatal game. They say they will not respond to Fagel's allegations until the suit is filed.
Ironically, had the 6'7" Gathers quit playing after his first collapse, he probably could have cashed in on his $1 million disability insurance policy with Lloyd's of London. Gathers took out the policy last spring when he decided to stay at Loyola for his senior season after leading the nation in scoring and in rebounding as a junior. The policy, which was designed to benefit Gathers in case of a career-ending injury, did not include benefits for death.
"We talked about him cashing it in, hanging it up," said Priamos. "But Hank would have nothing to do with it. If the doctors were going to clear him to play, he was going to play."
And so Gathers agreed to let his doctors perform any tests necessary to find out if that was possible. During one test, his heart began racing so wildly that the doctors had to administer shock to get it stabilized, said a friend who was with Gathers at the hospital that day. Such an incident is not unusual during these kinds of tests, cardiologists say, but it was so painful and so traumatic that it left Gathers despondent about his circumstances and caused his mother, who saw him shortly afterward, to collapse in the arms of a nurse, the friend said.