Friday, March 4, 2011

In Memoriam: Hank Gathers and Wes Leonard

It was 21 years ago today that Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers died after collapsing on the court during a game in the West Coast Conference Tournament against Portland State. Hands down the best college basketball player in the country and arguably already in the upper echelon of all basketball players amateur or professional, the 23-year-old had just thrown down a vicious ally-oop to stake his squad to a 25-13 lead with 13:34 still on the clock in the first half. Gathers, already with eight points in the game, high fived his teammate and best friend Bo Kimble as they got back on defense. Moments later, the physical marvel crumpled to the floor. He tried once to get up but couldn't muster the strength. A defibrillator was used on him shortly after he was removed from the floor, by that time his heart had stopped beating. His mother screamed and medical personnel scrambled. He was dead before he arrived at the hospital.

Earlier that season, Gathers had collapsed at the free throw line during a game at UC Santa Barbara. He missed his first shot. And dropped before he could loft the second. He was able to regain his feet and walk off the court under his own power. The senior star who was months from the NBA draft, where he was undoubtedly going to be one of the first players to shake David Stern's hand, having led the NCAA in points (32.7) and rebounds (13.7) during his junior season, was soon diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat. He was prescribed medication and cleared to play shortly thereafter.

Eerily and inconceivably sadly, a young high school hoops star died yesterday shortly after hitting a game-winning shot for his team. Wes Leonard stood 6 feet and 2 inches tall but seems to have loomed much larger in the esteem of those who knew him in Fennville, Michigan. Last night, Leonard dropped in a game-winning layup in overtime to clinch a pristine 20-0 season. A gym full of high school kids clamored for their talismanic three-sport star as his teammates lifted him on their shoulders. And then he died. He was a teenager who had just hit the game-winner in a hoops game. And then he fucking died. Right there on the court. It would later be determined that he'd suffered a cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.

So, yeah, I've got no great point here, philosophical or medical. I certainly can't conjure any silver lining or greater good wrought by the public deaths of these two basketball players with heart problems. These are just two sadsadsad stories that by some terrible quirk of the universe are sort linked. That is all. Also, sorry.

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