Advertisement

Back to College for Westhead; Schaefer Shows That He's a Pro : Trainer: Former Loyola trainer has returned to Chicago, but he can't forget March 4, 1990.

August 22, 1993|ALAN DROOZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nearly 3 1/2 years removed from the horrors of March 4, 1990, Robert (Chip) Schaefer finds it difficult to escape the specter of Hank Gathers' death.

Schaefer, the Loyola Marymount trainer who joined others trying to save Gathers after he collapsed during a basketball game that Sunday afternoon, is a trainer with the defending three-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls.

Although Schaefer, 32, has been cleared of lawsuits that claimed efforts of the Loyola staff were inadequate to save the player, reminders of the event abound.

Schaefer watched the events leading to the July 27 death of Boston Celtics standout Reggie Lewis with a sense of deja vu.

"My reaction (to Lewis' death) was not complete shock, but surprise," Schaefer said. "The similarities to Hank's death--it was kind of eerie. Seeing the film (of Lewis fainting in an April 29 playoff game) was eerily similar."

Before his death from cardiac arrest, Gathers had a fainting spell during a Dec. 9, 1989, game against UC Santa Barbara and spent weeks undergoing tests. After Gathers was cleared to play, Schaefer carried a portable defibrillator to Loyola games.

When he saw tape of Lewis' fainting spell, Schaefer tried to contact Boston trainer Ed Lacerte several times. Because the teams were competing in the playoffs, the two never hooked up. But Schaefer didn't expect a similar outcome.

"Seeing (Lewis) faint, it was obvious something was going on there," Schaefer said. "Because he wasn't allowed back to play and they were running tests, I was confident in what they were doing."

Schaefer had a similar flashback last year when Notre Dame basketball player Monty Williams tried to get reinstated after sitting out a season because of a heart abnormality.

Williams, who played as a freshman, sat out again last season but hopes to be cleared to play this fall.

The Gathers family lawsuit against Loyola and several doctors who treated Hank in the months before his death was settled earlier this year after intensive medical testimony in Torrance Superior Court.

The courtroom testimony broke down the frenzied activity after Gathers' seizure to the time he was pronounced dead later in the evening, nearly minute by minute.

"I felt good the way it finished," said Schaefer, who testified. "It turned out those tending him did a pretty good job. Obviously I wish we'd had a different outcome, but I feel better knowing the people who tended him weren't grossly incompetent."

Not that it erases the memories.

"I was happy to get official closure, but it's something that's still there," he said.

Adjusting to NBA life was a bit of a shock for Schaefer.

By Christmas of his first year, the Bulls had played the equivalent of a college season. Four months remained in the regular season, plus playoffs.

The extensive travel, Schaefer said, "is taxing on everybody. You might have four games in five nights in four cities. The guys develop a lot of overuse-type injuries. You have to try to anticipate things, do the proper preparation and stretching to keep players ready to play."

His duties go beyond taping and massaging players. He must track fouls and timeouts and is an unofficial road secretary.

And, of course, Schaefer is charged with the safekeeping of Michael Jordan.

"Mike's very easy from a trainer's standpoint," Schaefer said. "He's been very trusting of me and somebody of that magnitude could make my job a pain if he wanted to. He doesn't."

Schaefer sees firsthand the beating Jordan takes nightly.

"He's an incredible athletic specimen. He takes his wear and tear, but he's been able to avoid anything (serious). He has three years left on his contract and everyone hopes he finishes that. It's hard to see him going much farther."

Schaefer has even gone Hollywood in Chicago, appearing in a pain-reliever commercial with Jordan.

"It's worked out almost like a fairy-tale," said Schaefer, who grew up a block from the Bulls' practice facility in suburban Chicago.

Schaefer maintains Southland ties, although his friendships at Loyola have dwindled because of turnover at the school. He keeps in contact with Athletic Director Brian Quinn and trainer Chris Tucker. He's also friends with Laker trainer Gary Vitti.

Schaefer said working with Paul Westhead at Loyola helped him prepare for his work with the Bulls. Westhead, a former coach of the Lakers and Bulls, gave Schaefer many of the responsibilities an NBA coach gives a trainer.

"Paul's NBA experience was definitely an aid to me when I got to Chicago," Schaefer said. "He got me ready. Paul was a wonderful person to have for a growing experience. Those same three years at Pepperdine or San Diego wouldn't have been the same. Working with Paul made the difference."

Westhead, who left Loyola shortly after Schaefer in 1990, also returned to the NBA for two seasons as coach of the Denver Nuggets. Westhead's frenetic offense never caught on with NBA players.

"It was a tough situation for Paul," Schaefer said. "The team wasn't very good. To run his system, a (NBA) team would have to be pioneers. You have to use your entire roster, every night. NBA teams don't tend to do that, they usually play eight or nine guys at the most. Is it possible in theory? Certainly.

"It would be tough to get player compliance. You'd be asking guys who play 32 or 34 minutes to play 24 minutes so other guys could play. They get paid on their stats so it would be tough. It's a players' league and the players kind of run things."

Westhead will try again this season at George Mason University.

"Paul will win again," Schaefer said.

Meanwhile, Schaefer has made himself at home in the NBA.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|