thirty years ago, the 1989–90 LMU men’s basketball team — among the best and most exciting teams in the nation — lost one of its most valuable players at season’s end to a heart attack. All-American Hank Gathers passed away on during a game at Gersten Pavilion from a pre-existing heart condition. His longtime friend and teammate Bo Kimble, switching hands, took his first foul shot with his left hand in the 1990 NCAA Tournament in Hank’s honor. The team’s tournament run itself — to the round of the Elite Eight — became part of their tribute, and it captured the attention of fans nationwide.
Brian Berger ’91, host of Sports Business Radio, called every game in the 1989–90 season as a KXLU student deejay. “When we went to Louisiana to play LSU, or Oregon to play Oregon St., or Philadelphia to play La Salle and St. Joe’s, the local press would write, ‘The circus was coming to town,’” he said. “It was a show. People had never seen anything like it, and they’d pack the stands because they knew a record was going to be set.”
The tournament performance was only part of an amazing story. Playing in “The System,” a game strategy that relied on high-pressure defense and rapid offense, LMU regularly reached point totals higher than 120. The team topped that score 19 times. The Lion offense totaled 130 or more in 11 games. In only four games of the 26-game season did the team score fewer than 100, and in two of those, LMU scored 99. To encapsulate the experience, imagine this: On Jan. 19, 1990, Gonzaga came to Gersten Pavilion for an away game and put 100 points on the board — and left with a 44-point loss.
This year LMU celebrates the 30th anniversary of that unforgettable season; this special section of LMU Magazine is part of that celebration. The heart of the commemoration will take place on Feb. 29. During halftime of a game with the University of San Francisco, coaches and members of the team, which was inducted into the LMU Athletics Hall of Fame as a group in 2005, will be recognized. Outside Gersten Pavilion, a statue of Hank Gathers will be unveiled. The Fine Arts Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, in Highwood, Illinois, created the sculpture. Rotblatt-Amrany is known for its works depicting Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Beckham, Vince Lombardi, Pat Tillman and many other sports figures. The Gathers family will be present for the event. The sculpture is being financed through a crowdfunding campaign. (To learn more, see “Giveback,” Page 60 in this issue, and go to hank44.lmu.edu.)
The team also will be featured in a 15-second commercial celebrating LMU’s basketball heritage. It will air of during halftimes of broadcasted and streamed WCC games. On the following pages is a look back at a unique season. Also, some legendary figures in LMU basketball and nationwide share their thoughts about Hank Gathers as a player and a person.
The LMU community was forever shaped by what took place during that season. But equally remarkable was the mark left on fans around the country, regardless of whether they had any stake in LMU basketball. Terry Lavin ’90 witnessed it firsthand as a member of the LMU rugby team.
Lavin remembers a road trip to Boston during Easter break of 1990. “We took black electrical tape and wrapped it around the arm of our jerseys,” Lavin recalls, “and we wrote No. 44 on the tape with White-Out correction fluid. Sometimes, when there was a break in the action, an opponent would say, ‘I was rooting for LMU in the NCAA tournament’ or ‘Sorry about Hank Gathers.’ When people found out we were with LMU, they all had condolences for Hank.”
This article appeared in the winter 2020 issue (No. 9, No. 2) issue of LMU Magazine.