On March 4, 1990, Loyola Marymount University star senior forward Hank Gathers sprints down the court during a West Coast Conference tournament game, leaps and catches an alley-oop pass, slams down an emphatic dunk, and, after jogging back to midcourt, collapses to the floor. Although he briefly regains consciousness, he is rushed to a hospital, where he dies. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead tells the media.
Gathers, a 6-foot-7, 23-year-old who led the nation in scoring and rebounding as a junior, had collapsed on the court during a game earlier in his senior season. He quickly recovered, and doctors were unable to fully ascertain what was wrong with him. (An autopsy would later reveal he suffered from a heart disorder known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.)
Despite being prescribed heart medication, Gathers was cleared to play again and, after a few sluggish performances, appeared to be back to his old self after a 48-point, 13-rebound game against an LSU team that featured Shaquille O’Neal.
Loyola Marymount’s opponent in the West Coast Conference tournament game was the University of Portland—a team that featured a guard named Erik Spoelstra. He would become a become a championship-winning head coach of the Miami Heat.
After Gathers’ collapse, the game and tournament were cancelled and Loyola Marymount was awarded the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Led by Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymount advanced to the Elite Eight despite being seeded 11th. Kimble made his first free throw in the tournament left-handed, a tribute to Gathers, who had begun to shoot free throws left-handed to fix one of the few shortcomings in his game.
Gathers’ name is often brought up as a cautionary tale for any athlete diagnosed with a heart condition. “[Gathers] was an outstanding young man as an athlete and as a human being,” Loyola Marymount athletic director Brian Quinn told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re all better people for having the opportunity to know him and be his friend.”