This week’s sports news?
The Lakers lost again, so that’s always a bonus to my highlights. Devin Booker and this guy named T.J. Warren are absolutely pouring it on defenders.
If you would have told me players such as Warren, Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. were going to light up the stat sheet in the bubble, I would have replied with, “Who is Gary Trent Jr.?”
The Astros keep losing, which I think is somewhat keeping sports fans at ease, and college football as we know it is canceled this season.
I kid you not, as I was writing this introduction, Cal alumnus Collin Morikawa won the PGA Championship. Unreal.
Let’s get after it.
Volume 1, Episode 9: “Guru of Go”
I have to say right off the bat that this was a great “30 for 30” episode, filled with Shakespearean transitions, side stories and, best of all, the episode’s own reaction to the events that transpired.
Coach Paul Westhead was a rebel against traditional basketball. Not only did he want to move the ball as fast as it could be moved up the court, but he also denied really keying in on defense at all.
In 1980, he received his first big opportunity in coaching with the Los Angeles Lakers, led at the time by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Even though he was only in the position on a technicality of the former coach Jack McKinney’s injury, Westhead led the Lakers to a title in his first year and famously put Johnson at center.
Westhead’s run was incredible — until he was replaced by his assistant in just his third season in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast in Philadelphia, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were tearing up the high school court before choosing to go to USC to further pursue their academic and basketball plans.
It was at USC where they lost their scholarships in the process of the school hiring a new head coach, George Raveling. They ended up transferring to LMU, which was coached at the time by Westhead.
These two worlds finally collided, and it was as if the pieces fell together perfectly. Kimble and Gathers were the right athletes to test-drive Westhead’s new “system.”
His system had a simple objective: run. Then run some more. Now run a bit farther, but don’t forget to shoot every single possession. Defense was hardly a priority because by the time LMU was scored on, they were already on the break looking for easy buckets
In 1987, the Lions averaged 110.2 points per game. By ’88, it was nearly 113, and by the end of the ’89 season, a whopping 122.4. They made the tournament all three years, and Kimble and Gathers were almost certainly going pro.
Then out of nowhere, it all came crashing down.
Gathers was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat, which was first discovered after he fainted in a game against UC Santa Barbara in the 1989-90 season. On March 9, 1990, he died on the basketball court moments after throwing down a lob from his teammate.
He was later diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle condition that played a hand in the star player’s sudden death. He was 23 years old when he died.
What played out afterward was the madness that became March in the NCAA’s yearly tournament.
Kimble, in the first round of the tournament, shot his first free throw left-handed. Paying tribute to his friend and teammate, who had also shot his free throws left-handed, Kimble would bury it at the charity strike along with New Mexico State.
LMU went on to blow out Michigan, the defending champ, in the second round of a Cinderella-esque story that ended with a loss in the Elite Eight.
Following the season, lawsuits were filed against the school and even Westhead, accusing them of conspiring to have Gathers continue to play through his heart condition. The ones against Westhead were later dropped due to lack of evidence.
The Gathers family settled with LMU for $545,000, and Westhead resigned from his position with the university but found success later in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, led by Diana Taurasi.
Using his same “system,” the Mercury would win their first WNBA crown in 2007.
“Guru of Go” is a tragic story filled with a multitude of uplifting moments that peaked with Kimble’s left-handed free throws. It’s devastating that a career such as Gathers’ was marked unfinished, and you can only imagine how far this team would’ve gone in the 1990 tournament with him on its roster.
Westhead’s system works if you have the right personnel, and not only that, willing personnel. (There’s no way you’d catch me conditioning the way these guys were, but I will say that popping teams by 20-plus points a game does sound like a blast.)
Westhead’s “rebound and go” mantra is fascinating but dangerous, and it makes sense that it doesn’t work unless everyone buys in. However, I think it’s fair to say that this smash-mouth basketball was extremely entertaining and downright electric to watch on this episode of “30 for 30.”
As some live sports return and others are canceled, this episode reminds us how beautiful but fleeting the world of competitive sports is. Sports — and the ability to play them — should never be taken for granted.
Lucas Perkins-Brown covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected].