Death Hit Walker Hard


Deandre Hillman, 17, died in August of cardiac arrest.

He died on an outdoor basketball court in Columbus, Ohio, two games into a hot night, while friends poured water over him.

He was 6-foot-5, a varsity player at nearby Whitehall-Yearling High, with a chance to be very good.

There was something else about Deandre Hillman.

“He looked just like me,” Laker forward Samaki Walker said Wednesday afternoon.


Hillman was Walker’s nephew, his brother’s oldest child. A basketball player, just like his uncle. A decent kid, trying to get better. And then he was gone, and so were the telephone calls, and the summer pickup games, and the laughs.

“I was his idol,” Walker said quietly. “He loved his uncle. And, oh man, I loved him.”

Doctors said Hillman suffered from electrical instability in his heart, and that his slight dehydration that night could have exacerbated that. Hillman’s mother said he was born with a hole in the heart, but the autopsy found no evidence of it.

“It scared me, more than a little,” said Walker, who took a call with the terrible news while in Los Angeles, preparing for his first season with the Lakers. “It lets you know, right there, I mean, this was a young, healthy kid. There was no sign.”

So Walker, who for years watched his nephew yearn to impress him, chose a course that would touch his nephew. He got involved with Start-A-Heart, a nonprofit organization that provides Automated External Defibrillators to schools and other public facilities. At a fundraiser tonight, Start-A-Heart will present its 2001 Heart Award to Chick Hearn.

“That’s the least I can do,” Walker said. “Hopefully, this will help a lot of people.”



With six misses in seven attempts Tuesday, Shaquille O’Neal’s free-throw percentage fell to 49.1, under 50% for the first time this season. Asked if it were time for O’Neal to seek help, Coach Phil Jackson passed. “I’m not going to comment on that one way or the other,” he said. “That’s like asking, ‘You beat your wife lately?”’ Brian Shaw did not practice Wednesday because of a sprained left ankle.