By: Hassan Barzani (UTSA)
Twenty years after he collapsed and died during a game, the Loyola Marymount star is remembered during a ceremony at the school. Twenty years later, grown men still grab Bo Kimble’s hand and cry.
In an era of sports where hard work and dedication is difficult to find, the saddest, sweetest college basketball story still lives. You can feel it in the chills of those who witnessed it and the sad smiles of those who lived it, the sorrow and joy of the 1989-90 Loyola Marymount basketball team.
“It was just one moment in time,” Kimble says. “But that moment has been strong enough to last forever.”
Even now, looking back through the lens of a sports landscape filled with an upset taking place seemingly every minute, the moment remains nothing short of a miracle. Twenty years ago, a raggedy group of playground stars from a tiny Catholic college watched their best player, Hank Gathers, collapse and die of a heart ailment during the first half of a game in the conference tournament on their home court.
Twelve days later, the team began a run through the NCAA tournament that fell only one game short of the Final Four. On the way, they set records for scoring and symbolism, for three-pointers and tears, a bunch of grieving but gripping kids providing a transfixed nation with lessons of the heart. In short, it was about a left-handed free throw.
In choosing to honor the fallen Gathers, who had been trying to perfect a left-handed free throw at the time of his death, teammate and best friend Kimble decided to shoot the first free throw of every tournament game left-handed.
Even though Kimble is right-handed and the Lions were such big underdogs that every point would matter, Bo still felt the need to pay tribute to Hank. Four times Kimble threw up the left-handed shot. Four times fans would openly weep. Four times he made the shot. It was the perfect symbol for a mournful, magical stretch of basketball that will never be repeated.
“My son’s memory has become such a strength to so many people,” Lucille Gathers Cheeseboro said.
As the NCAA tournament progresses down the road to the Final Four, players, coaches and fans alike will draw upon the magic of stories like those of the 1989-90 Loyola Marymount Lions.