Hank Gathers wasn’t going to be denied. It didn’t matter how many times he went up, only to have Shaquille O’Neal’s massive mitts smash his shot into smithereens, he was going to keep coming. Five times Gathers barreled into O’Neal — five years his junior but six inches his senior — and turned around as the ball was shipped first-class in the opposite direction.

Each embarrassing block and frenzied reaction from Louisiana State fans only made Gathers more determined. Loyola Marymount Coach Paul Westhead called a timeout to calm his team and settle down his star. Gathers was too busy fuming to feel ashamed about his shots being treated like tennis balls to O’Neal’s racket hands. He used the time in the huddle to make a demand.

“Get me the ball,” Gathers told his teammates.

Gathers survived the same gang-infested Raymond Rosen projects in North Philadelphia that produced boxing champion Bernard Hopkins. He’d shut down pickup games by…





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