Recently, I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 film “Guru of Go.” At seventeen years of age, I have not been around for many of the great moments in sports history. However, I have seen significant amounts of sports footage recapping the most memorable moments. After viewing “Guru of Go,” I was stunned: I had just witnessed the greatest moment in NCAA basketball history (possibly in all of sports)…and not many people knew about it.
The film’s title suggests that the main focus is on Paul Westhead and “The System” (an unorthodox, run-and-gun style of play). It follows Westhead’s return to the college ranks as he took over as the head coach of the Loyola Marymount men’s basketball program. It also covers Loyola Marymount’s impressive run in which, despite being a smaller school and not a traditional NCAA basketball power, it became a legitimate contender in NCAA hoops. However, teammates (and best friends) Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble commanded all of my attention and deservedly so.
Watch this short video to see the effectiveness of Westhead’s “System” at Loyola Marymount:
Gathers and Kimble were both recruited from Philadelphia to play at USC. After one season, and a coaching change, Kimble and Gathers transferred together from USC to Loyola Marymount to play for Paul Westhead. Adopting “The System,” Gathers and Kimble shined, becoming the leaders of the LMU Lions. Unfortunately, in the midst of a terrific season, Gathers was found to have an abnormal heartbeat. However, he felt that the medication he was given adversely affected his play and he cut back on his dosage. He often refused to show up for repeated medical appointments and was suspected of not taking any dosage on game days.
On Sunday, March 4, 1990, he collapsed in the first half of the WCC tournament quarterfinal game against Portland, just after scoring on his trademark tomahawk dunk from an alley-oop pass. He attempted to get up, telling the trainers, “I don’t want to lay down.” Those were his last words.
Watch this short video for a recap of Hank Gathers’ last moments:
Gathers was undoubtedly the most popular student-athlete at LMU and perhaps throughout all of the nation. His personality, as well as his style of play, attracted people. While the whole basketball community (and others) were mourning his loss, something amazing happened.
During LMU’s run to the Elite Eight (the top eight college teams in the nation) following the tragic incident, Bo Kimble, Gathers’ best friend, shot his first free throw of each game left-handed in memory of Gathers (Kimble was right-handed). He made all three left-handed attempts. (Note: Although right-handed, Gathers struggled so much with free throws that he switched to shooting them left-handed for a short time.)
Watch this short video to see the greatest moment in NCAA basketball history:
Sitting here, writing this article, I’m having a tough time gathering my thoughts. It’s something that can’t be put into words; those words would only take away from the memory. The moment can be described, but the emotions brought forth by that moment cannot. I have no connection to Loyola Marymount University. I had not known of Hank Gathers until watching the film. I enjoy watching basketball occasionally, but am not an avid fan. I wasn’t even alive when this occurred. So why am I, like many others, so affected by this? If you understand sports, you will know the answer to this.
That left-handed free throw was Bo Kimble’s way of saying, “I don’t want to lay down.”
Kimble (left) and Gathers