Gathers' buddy Kimble says, in end, games go on

DAY OF GRIEF, QUESTIONS

March 24, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

Bo Kimble can tell you what the Cleveland Indians will go through in the wake of the deaths of pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews.

There will be grief. And anger. And suddenly, the realization that the games, however meaningless, must simply go on.

Kimble has gone through it all before.

Three years ago, he was a senior guard for Loyola Marymount and watched as his best friend and teammate, Hank Gathers, collapsed and died on a basketball court.

The game was suspended. Funerals were held in Los Angeles and Gathers' hometown of Philadelphia. But the season continued as Kimble, shooting foul shots left-handed in Gathers' honor, and Loyola Marymount advanced to the final eight of the NCAA tournament.

"It's very difficult to carry the fond memories or the painful memories of a friend and then be in a situation where you're up at bat, and you have to have the same type of concentration you had in the past. It's impossible," said Kimble, now a reserve with the New York Knicks.

"You have to channel the energy and the pain into a positive situation," he said. "You have to try and play harder."

The youngest, the swiftest, the strongest are not supposed to die. But when young athletes do, they leave behind not just bereaved families, but also grief-stricken teammates and communities.

The Indians are not the first team to be touched by death. Surely, they will not be the last.

But there is no rule book on coping with grief.

"One of the most important things for the Cleveland Indians is to come together as a team," Kimble said. "At Loyola Marymount, we all created this bond after Hank's death. It was like magic happening. The Cleveland Indians have to realize they have to play as hard as they can.

"But you don't put the pressure on, 'Well, if we have a great season, we're showing our love for our friends and teammates, and if we play horrible, we let them down.' You have to bond together, and play the best baseball you can play. And then, you'll feel great about yourself."

In the past 16 months, Gerald Stone at the University of Iowa has become something of an expert on public grief. The school was shaken by a shooting rampage by a graduate physics student that left six dead, by the death of an assistant football coach, by the death of Bill Stringer, husband of women's basketball coach Vivian Stringer, and by the death of men's basketball player Chris Street.

After a period of mourning, life continued. And so did the games.

"The complete shock and being stunned is the initial reaction," said Stone, the head of the university's counseling service. "Then you have a little loss of confidence in a safe and predictable world. Then it's more kind of reaching out and trying to understand the phenomenon, what is happening. Then the grieving process kicks in. The loss. You can't put the grief away. You have to deal with it."

At Iowa, the sports teams and the community wept and honored the dead. The Iowa men advanced through one round of the NCAA basketball tournament. The women have reached the regional semifinals. But a return to normalcy, Stone said, has meant recognizing that no one is immune from death and tragedy.

"On a baseball team or a basketball team, you don't associate that people are going to die on you," he said.

For Jim Anderson, the Oregon State men's basketball coach, a "safe and predictable" world fell apart in January 1992, when his team's popular guard, Earnest Killum, suffered a stroke and died during a road trip to Los Angeles.

After pausing for a funeral, after postponing one game, the season continued.

"Nothing seemed important," Anderson said. "The games felt trivial."

Anderson said it took a year for a sense of normalcy to return. But even this season, the Beavers wore patches on their uniforms to honor Killum, and at their home gym, Killum's locker stall remains shrouded in black and encased in glass.

"The main thing is to draw on the inner support of the people on the team," Anderson said. "They have to help each other get through moments where they are grieving."

Death and grief have come to the Cleveland Indians.

They will mourn their teammates. They will resume their work. They will begin a season.

"When a death happens in sports, it shows the public that we're all human," Kimble said. "Tomorrow is not promised. You just have to do the best job that you can while you're here. Sports figures are no different than regular people. You take the lifestyle and the money away, it's all the same type of pain."

Player profiles of Crews, Olin

TIM CREWS

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