On the day Loyola Marymount expected to be celebrating its third consecutive conference tournament title, the school instead celebrated a memorial Mass for fallen basketball star Hank Gathers.
A line of mourners stretched from Gersten Pavilion and beyond the campus onto 80th Street. Inside, Father Tom Higgins, a member of the Loyola faculty, greeted the overflow crowd: "Welcome to Hank's House."
The Rev. David Hagan, a longtime Gathers family friend, suggested that the gym where Gathers found glory be memorialized to Gathers.
Perhaps the most moving moments of the 90-minute service occurred near the end, when teammate and boyhood friend Bo Kimble paid tribute to Gathers.
Taking a deep breath, Kimble said, "It's so difficult to be here speaking of my beloved friend and brother. You never know how much they mean to you till they're gone. Now I know."
Then he asked for "one last applause in his house." The crowd responded with a standing ovation, then moved into a spontaneous second round of thunderous clapping, foot-stomping and whistling that shook the gym.
Higgins, who said he once told Gathers, "You're the only person I've ever met funnier than I am," and got the reply, "Definitely, Father," perhaps best put it in perspective, saying, "Why did Hank die? Our books don't have the answers. Why did Hank live? Your presence here answers that."
Those in attendance at the noon-hour service included many of Gathers' old teammates from USC, as well as former Trojan coach Stan Morrison, most of the Pepperdine team, and many former Loyola teammates and their parents.
Attendants were given a bookmark-sized keepsake with Gathers' picture and the inscription, "In loving memory of Hank Gathers."
The Loyola players, many of them weeping, came in last, and Gathers' silver casket was brought to the front. Kimble sat with Gathers' immediate family. Athletic Director Brian Quinn read from the Book of Wisdom: "He that lived among us was taken."
Higgins began his eulogy by reworking Shakespeare's "What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, . . . in action how like an angel." Interspersing his own comments, Higgins said, "What a piece of work was Hank. . . . In action, how like an angel. Except at the foul line."
Then, in a more serious tone, Higgins said: "He spoke from the heart, with a twinkle in his eye, the leader of the team, with the heart of a lion. I love how he loved himself. He died doing what he loved most. Maybe God needed a power forward in Heaven."
Teammate Tom Peabody, who stopped to touch the casket, led a prayer, fighting his emotions. Peabody's handwritten petitions included, "For the kids Hank touched, may they learn from his death . . . not to be afraid, to never give up."
The Loyola players and Gathers' brother, Derrick, brought up Gathers' red uniform, along with the Communion wafers and wine, as Eucharistic gifts. After Communion, Loyola Coach Paul Westhead spoke.
"The paint was his domain. Hank with the ball in the paint was money in the bank. He was Hank the Bank," Westhead said. "The next-to-last thing he did was a thunderous dunk, in the paint. In the bank. The last thing he did was acknowledge the pass, slap a teammate's hand."
Quoting a line from "Macbeth," Westhead said, "Nothing he did became him like the leaving of him."
Westhead said he was listening to "Oh Very Young" by Cat Stevens in his car when he got to the campus before Sunday's game.
"Oh very young, what will you leave us this time,
"You're only dancing on this earth for a short time,
"And though you want to live forever you know you never will,
"And the goodby makes the journey harder still."
Kimble then spoke. He had broken down Monday at a news conference, but he made it through with quiet emotion Tuesday.
"We came from the streets of Philadelphia and there were a lot of tough times," Kimble said.
"A lot of people doubted Hank would make it. Hey, he made it. His energy is within myself. Every time I pick up a basketball for the rest of my life . . . Hank Gathers will be with me."
Kimble then requested the last applause for Gathers, and was hugged by Hagan and some of the Gathers family during the ovation.
The last eulogist, Hagan, knows the Gathers family from St. Elizabeth's Parish in Philadelphia. He was the only speaker who called Gathers by his given name, Eric. Hagan urged that the university grant Gathers a degree--he would have graduated this semester--and set up a memorial fund for the family.
"He broke his body for this university," Hagan said. "I hope the university will break its body for Hank."
And to loud applause, he said, "I hope one day this (gym) will say up here, 'Hank's House.'
"Coming out here was a miracle for Hank," Hagan said. "God bless you, Hank."
Services for Gathers were scheduled for Monday at Emmanuel Institutional Baptist Church in Philadelphia.