Thursday, March 2, 2017

The shock of death, Part 2

In the world of sports, there are quite a bit of players who go into the realms of possible can't miss guys that could potentially net a championship. In basketball, there is that heartbreak of hearing what happens and that story has occurred a few times with the Boston Celtics. However, college basketball suffered a huge loss in 1990 with Hank Gathers. Despite a heart condition problem, he was a big deal for Loyola Marymount and the team was a wrecking crew that year. However, during a game in the West Coast Conference Tournament, he would collapse on the court and never regain consciousness again.

There is always that concern. You see it with not just sports, but things that issue warnings about having a heart problem. A big example is roller coasters. Going at a high rate of speed and screaming, that's obvious. The risk of playing with a condition goes beyond heart stuff. Current Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, playing for the Portland Pilots the night Gathers collapsed, has had the dilemma the last few years with Chris Bosh. Bosh has been one of the big players since coming into the league in 2003. Since 2014, he has had issues with blood clots, and the Heat have been very cautious with him not playing. No doubt in my mind, Spoelstra is scared of what could happen to Bosh. The last thing he would want is something that was similar to what he saw in 1990. That stuff could bring back a lot of bad memories.

If you want the textbook definition of pure bad luck, the Boston Celtics can say they've had things go south. During their hey day in the early to mid 80s, their first choice in the 1986 draft was a Maryland player by the name of Len Bias. Some were saying he was just as good, if not better, than Michael Jordan. A few days after being drafted, he wound up overdosing on cocaine. This was not just a shock to the NBA and basketball. Politicians were getting in on this, leading to various laws targeting cocaine and drug users, cracking down on it and sending many to jail for a long time. It had a big effect that is still there to this day. You see it in shows like Cops where people try to smuggle stuff with various ways and failing.

The 90s saw a change in the Celtics. A number of 80s superstars were on their way out the door. Larry Bird retired following the 1991-92 season. Guys like Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were in their twilight years. Their leading man was Reggie Lewis, who had been with the team since being drafted in 1987. Lewis had some of the same issues that Gathers had, but started showing these problems in the 1993 playoffs.  The first game they had, he wound up collapsing and didn't play for the rest of the series (Boston would lose the series). After a few months, Lewis would eventually pass away from heart issues. I don't know if it had anything to do with what happened to Bias, but the suspicion was cocaine or some other drugs killed him, but there was no evidence to say there was anything inside him. Lewis was their future. Despite the honors and tributes, Boston would struggle for almost a decade before achieving success in the early 2000s.

Lewis' death was not the only shocking thing. Prior to that, the New Jersey Nets suffered a big shock with Drazen Petrovic. A Croatian who spent a few years in European basketball, he would make his debut in 1989 with Portland and be traded to the Nets during the 90-91 season. The next season, the team would improve to getting 40 wins and a quick playoff appearance, losing in the first round. For the 1992-93 campaign, they had a new coach in Detroit Piston legend Chuck Daly. With the younger players of Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman combined with some big veterans such as Petrovic and Sam Bowie, the Nets put up a winning record. It was enough to get in the playoffs, but exited again in the first round.

Petrovic would spend time in Croatia with their basketball team, wondering what he could potentially do for the 1993-94 season. He had given thought about leaving the Nets and going back to playing in Europe, where he had been given some offers from teams in Greece. On the Autobahn in Germany, he would unfortunately meet his demise. A semi-truck heading in the opposite direction on a rainy afternoon swerved to avoid a car. It would wind up in the other lane, and the driver got out. He attempted to warn cars of stopping, but it was too late. The car that carried Petrovic and two women, one who was starting to know him, crashed into that truck. He was sleeping at the time and was instantly killed, due to not wearing a seatbelt. Much like Lewis, this was such an utter shock. He was a worldwide phenom who excelled in both Europe and the NBA. The Nets looked like they were on the up and up. It's that kind of story where you realize that life can be taken without warning, regardless of age. The world lost a player in June 1993 that meant something to several regions and his legacy still lives on today.

With basketball heartbreak, this warrants a part 3, focusing on a couple more sports. Stop by Saturday for more on the deaths I consider the most shocking.

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