A saddened Annie Matheney sat in her living room, remembering her eldest son and thinking how he always seemed so blessed.
How Charles "Buster" Matheney rose above the toughness of South-Central Los Angeles to become, in 1974, one of the city's finest prep basketball players. How his star continued to rise at the University of Utah, where he was voted the team's best player. How he barely missed the NBA but played pro basketball all over the world.
"Then this happens, the worst thing that you could ever imagine," she said.
After walking out of a fried chicken and fish takeout place at East 76th Place and Central Avenue at 7:30 p.m. Monday, the 6-foot-9 Matheney was pursued by three men driving a beige Ford Explorer, said Sheriff's Sgt. Chuck Stringham. At least one of the men shot at him, and at least two bullets struck his upper body.
In a dusty, graffiti-filled alley about 50 yards from the All Star Fish Market, the rangy 44-year-old collapsed and died.
Stringham said authorities don't know the motive for the killing and have made no arrests. "Three men in an Explorer," Stringham said. "That's all we've got."
Inside Annie Matheney's single-story house, about a block from where her son was shot, all the family had were memories and questions.
Charles had gone to the fish stand Monday night for chicken, his favorite.
He never came back. "We've got no idea what happened," said Annie Matheney, 75, who has four other children.
Around her in the living room were Charles' trophies and photos, and she reached for a silver cup swathed in a net that had been cut down after a game. L.A. City, High Scorer, 1974, the trophy read.
Charles was the best athlete in a family of athletes, said his brothers, Ricky, 42, and Tony, 37.
The two rattled off the times when their older brother seemed like Superman: the city high school playoffs of 1974 when he played for Bell High, the college recruiting trips, the NCAA games when the power forward almost single-handedly lifted his team to victory. They remembered how he bounced back from getting cut by a string of NBA teams, taking his game to pro leagues in Australia, Italy, the Philippines and Mexico.
"He was loved in Australia," said Tony, who joined his brother in the professional league there in the 1980s. While in Australia, Charles taught the game to aboriginal children and coached 12-year-olds.
Since the mid-1990s, Matheney had been working with troubled children in group homes and recreation centers, his mother said. The father of a 4-year-old daughter, he had been living in his mother's home recently because of trouble with his marriage, she said.
Only recently, Tony recalled, he and Charles had been reminiscing about Australia.
"With the Olympics and all, I was telling him just the other day, we should go back," Tony said. "Australia is different. You can live in peace there.
"If we were there, this would not have happened."
Robin Mayper of The Times library contributed to this story.