Despite the death of star player Wes Leonard last week, the Fennville High School boys’ basketball team will play in the Michigan state tournament tonight and Bo Kimble, a man who knows firsthand about their pain, is expected to be onhand.
Leonard, 16, died of an enlarged heart Thursday night shortly after hitting the game-winning basket in overtime for his 20-0 team. Kimble was a Loyola Marymount teammate of Hank Gathers, who died suddenly during a college basketball conference game 21 years ago Friday. Kimble said he would tell Fennville players that “I 100 percent understand what they’re going through,” he said on ESPN. Kimble memorably honored Gathers by shooting the first free throw in every game thereafter lefthanded. “I didn’t get a chance to personally deal with my grief, other than shooting a left-handed free throw,” Kimble said.
Loyola Marymount advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to UNLV.
“We had a lot to deal with quickly,” Kimble told Sports Illustrated in 1990. “It was hard on everyone. But we knew Hank would have wanted us to play in the NCAAs. At the memorial service [in Loyola’s Gersten Pavilion], I looked over and saw his coffin was in the paint. I knew then we would have to find a way to win for him.”
Kimble, who’d been a friend of Gathers’ for 10 years, didn’t sleep for three days after Gathers died, and came to see that his vow to make “something happen” every time he touched the ball was unrealistic. “It may sound corny,” Kimble told SI, “but it makes me believe I’ve got a little bit of Hank inside me. I feel his strength.”
Kimble now is on the board of directors of 44 for Life, a non-profit organization that seeks to make defibrillators widely available and increase awareness about heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest.