The SportsThink Weekly Review #80
January 20, 2023
Welcome new readers! The SportsThink Weekly Review highlights my favorite sport-related reading of the week. Most articles are recently published, but some are not; the only rule is that I’ve read them within the past week. Some are relevant to my day job as a professor teaching courses on the business, history, and philosophy of sports. Others are just plain interesting, relevant to my life-long obsession with the games we play. I also occasionally share articles and assorted musings on Twitter. The newsletter is free, but comes with two requests. 1. I’m always open to suggestions, so send me the good stuff that you read! 2. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with other folks who might enjoy it as well. Finally, I try to focus on non-paywalled writing, but if you find yourself unable to access anything, just hit reply to the email and I’ll do my best to get you a copy. Thanks for reading!
The Tragedy of Hank Gathers and The Triumph of Loyola Marymount (John Gasaway, ESPN, 2021)
My current contender for sports story of the week is Loyola Marymount’s upset of #6 Gonzaga. The Lions did this in Spokane, where the Bulldogs had won 76 straight games. That’s a pretty big deal. LMU is close to my heart, the closest college to my hometown, a beautiful gem of a campus where a lot of my high school classmates went to school. It’s also my wife’s alma mater, an essential site in the cosmic pinball game that brought us together and made my life infinitely better. (For those keeping score, the Horns also kicked Zag butt earlier this year. Ozyurtcu household 2-Gonzaga 0.)
In terms of sports, LMU is known locally for fielding stronger teams than you’d expect from a school with seven-thousand students. On the national stage, they are best known for their basketball team, who semi-regularly punch above their weight. Paul Westhead put LMU on the map in the 1980s, leaving the NBA coaching ranks to bring his run-and-gun offense to campus with record breaking effect. Those teams scored A LOT of points.
If you are of a certain age, you may remember those teams, or at least the tragedy of Hank Gathers. Gathers and his friend from Philly, Bo Kimble—both NBA prospects—had started their college careers at USC before Westhead lured them across town. In 1989, Gathers led the NCAA in scoring and rebounding. The following year, he put up 48 against LSU, playing against Stanley Roberts and a guy named Shaq in the post. Hank Gathers was the real deal. Later that season, during the West Coast Conference tournament, Gathers collapsed mid-game and died shortly thereafter. He had also collapsed during a game the previous season and been diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat, and was put on medication and medical supervision. While cleared to play, Gathers felt the drugs adversely affected his game and it’s suspected that he ignored his doctor’s orders and stopped taking his medication the week before he passed. As a local, basketball obsessed 7-year old, this story broke my heart. It still does.
Bo Kimble had a brief NBA career and kicked around international and lower-level US leagues for a while, but I’ve always wondered if his enormous talent was hamstrung by the emotional toll of watching his best friend pass away. I met Kimble during his rookie season with the LA Clippers, when the teams of the vaunted Manhattan Beach Youth Basketball Association got to play at the truly-awful LA Memorial Sports Arena before the truly-awful Clippers took the floor. I was 7 or 8. As a rookie, he had drawn photo-op duties. I told him I was very sorry about his friend Hank. He just said, “me too,” and turned to the camera. I wish I still had that photo, but in my memory, he looked quite blue, despite the brave face he was putting on for us.
So, while I can’t say I regularly keep up with LMU Lion basketball, I’m always rooting for them and am happy when they do a good thing, like beat Gonzaga. This time around, their win sent me down a bit of an Internet rabbit-hole, which brought me to this great piece by Gasaway. It’s from 2021, excerpted from his book on Catholic college basketball, and new to me. A really good take on the Gathers story and how the team came together to make a pretty epic NCAA run after his passing. RIP Hank.
Why SEC Football’s Fascinating Urbanism Provides a Blueprint for Sports Stadiums (Declan Walsh, Sports Illustrated)
My favorite of the week. An argument for keeping stadia in town. I’m teaching a class on facility and event management this semester, so I found this particularly timely, but this is a good piece regardless. In the earliest days of American sports, ballparks and arenas were almost always urban, easy to access in the days before the automobile reigned supreme. Starting at mid-century, things got suburban, driven by cheaper land (and more of it) and a variety of financial incentives offered by outlying municipalities. I’m always suspect of claims like “burgeoning reurbanization movement,” but we’re definitely seeing a swing back to the in-city stadium and arena, something that I generally support, assuming the taxpayers don’t get too hosed in the process. Walsh contextualizes this trend vis-a-vis SEC football stadiums, which are sacred ground for many, and tend to highlight many of the arguments for keeping things central.
Messi vs. Ronaldo Offers a Window into the Saudi-Qatar Rivalry (Asli Pelit, Sportico)
It’s been a bit since I’ve shared anything on the geopolitics of sports, but this is a pretty good piece. On the upcoming match between the Saudi professional league All Stars (featuring Cristiano Ronaldo…strange times) and Messi’s (Qatari owned) PSG. Soft power through sports investments has been booming in the Arab world for the better part of the past decade and shows no sign of slowing down. Here’s another short piece that discusses this match and the bigger (Olympic-sized) vision of the Kingdom of Saud.
Humans Walk Weird. Scientists May Finally Know Why. (Katrina Miller, Wired)
Sports adjacent and pretty cool, despite the clickbaity title. A clear distillation of some recent scientific work on understanding the “double-bounce” mechanics of walking (we single-bounce when we run, apparently). Also some insight into our evolution as creatures of endurance/distance over speed and potential implications for prosthetics and robotics.
As always, thanks for reading. Please share the newsletter, it means the world to me when you do. And I’m always on the lookout for great content, so please keep sending along the things that you find interesting. You can always just hit reply to the newsletter in your inbox, or find me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next week,