Subscribe

Gianquinto quietly quit officiating

It was March 4, 1990 and the life was flowing out of Hank Gathers.

Playing against Portland the basketball player from Loyola Marymount had just collapsed on the court. Billy Gianquinto, the Santa Rosan who was one of the officials that day, raced to him, immediately frustrated.

?As officials,? said Gianquinto, who retired a month ago after 51 years of officiating basketball, ?we are instructed to never touch a player. Do not touch.?

Even if it?s quite obvious a player needs help?

?Never,? Gianquinto said. ?Even if there is blood streaming out of someone.? Gianquinto had to stand and watch and what he saw, he still sees to this day.

?Both his arms and legs were up in the air, shaking,? Gianquinto said. ?It was like Hank was gasping for breath, his mouth was wide open, but there was no breath. He had that death look in his eyes. He never said a word. You could hear a pin drop.?

As loquacious a man as you would want to meet, Gianquinto?s voice kept getting softer and softer as he told the story. He had officiated 916 games of NCAA Div. I basketball, including four NCAA tournament games, gobs of conference championships but how could a game, any game, compare to this.

?Hank had just dunked the ball,? said Gianquinto, 63. ?I remember walking out to the ambulance with a paramedic and asked him if Hank was going to be all right? The guy said, ?No?.?

Within minutes Hank Gathers was pronounced dead, suffering from a heart-muscle disorder, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was 23.

As a basketball official Gianquinto never saw life get that real for him again. As a human being that was fine with him. Sport is life.

Athletes are life. Outcomes may appear life-and-death. At the moment. He has felt plenty of those pseudo moments.

?Dimes and nickels,? that?s what Gianquinto said was thrown at him from the stands in 1996 in Tucson, Ariz. He had just called a charge on Arizona?s Miles Simon with the Wildcats leading in the last seconds of the Pac-10 championship game. UCLA took the inbound pass, sank a desperation 40-foot to give the Bruins the victory. Six Tucson cops escorted Gianquinto out of McKale Center.

?As I went by Lute Olson,? Gianquinto said of the Arizona coach, ?Lute said, ?Gutsy call, Billy.? Olson, who retired last year as Arizona?s coach, was labeled by some as distant, smug, condescending. But Olson, along with a few other coaches, rate the highest compliment from Gianquinto.

?The best moments I?ll always remember,? he said, ?were the coaches who said, ?Nice game?, even if their team lost. It takes a lot of class to do that. Paul Westhead (Loyola Marymount) was like that. So was Jim Brovelli (University of San Francisco). And Lute was like that. Not once, in any Arizona game, did Lute question even one call.?

Why would one want to become a basketball official?

Said Gianquinto: ?Ernie Filiberti (Hall of Fame official) told me I would get to stay around, get in the best shape of my life and be an athlete until I was an old man.?

One morning in April Gianquinto woke up and didn?t feel young. His right knee ached and throbbed like a tooth that saw too much sugar.

Three days later bone was still rubbing against bone. Nothing was left in his right knee but pain. Nothing was left to decide. The end came that sudden, that brutally final.

?Funny, when a basketball official retires,? said Gianquinto, who was Piner?s football coach from 1975-1985, ?they don?t hold a press conference.?

Gianquinto officiated a lot of Stanford games but Mike Montgomery wasn?t there to say to him in April, ?Thanks, Billy, for always knowing what a charge was.?

The irony is spectacular: Asked to excel so well on the court that he should remain invisible, the shame of it was Gianquinto left the job the same way.

Invisible.

After four days of ceaseless pain that will require a knee replacement at some near point, Gianquinto announced to a crowd of two ? Gianquinto and the guy looking back at him in the mirror ? that he would stop referring after 18 years in the Pac-10, 30 in the Big West and 30 in junior college.

Expert outdoorsman and celebrated duck-caller Gianquinto will be resuming his sports casting gig for the Outdoor Channel in June, with a 10-day trip to Uruguay, then later with a three-week trip to Canada. The outdoors may give him an outlet but basketball has given him the memories.

To wit ... ?I was on a plane in 1996 to ref a Stanford-Oregon game. On the same plane were the golf teams from Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA to play a tournament in Eugene. The person next to me asked me what I was doing. I told him I was refereeing the Stanford-Oregon game. All of a sudden a kid in front of me turns around and says, ?You?re an official? What?s it like to be an official? How did you get into it? Yeah, I?m from Stanford and I?ll be at the game?.

?It was Tiger Woods. I told Tiger not to yell at me when I was on the court. So of course the next night every time I?d make a call against Stanford Tiger would rise out of his seat with buddies and scream at me. I?d look over and he had this big smile on his face.

?Dick Davey was the basketball coach at Santa Clara and a fisherman like me. Dick always was on me. So I told him, ?Look at the replay later. If I?m wrong, I?ll buy you a rod. If I?m right, I?ll buy you a rod.? I got three rods and three reels from Dick.

?I was at Washington for a game with Washington State. A loose ball was coming my way. I jumped so I wouldn?t hit it but I came right down on it and the ball spun me upside down. With my head and my right shoulder I landed right on top of the official scorer and his table. Do I remember whose ball it was? Shoot, I couldn?t even see anything, my head hurt. It was a big ESPN highlight film that night.?

Billy Gianquinto the basketball official is a highlight film all right. If you could find him. Yep, he rates his own compliment ? he?s one of the best officials you?ve never seen.

For more on North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky@pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5490 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette