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Former NBA Player Found Dead Along Interstate

November 22, 1996

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Phil Hankinson, a reserve on the Boston Celtics’ 1973-74 NBA championship team, was found shot to death in an apparent suicide, authorities said.

Hankinson, 45, apparently shot himself while sitting in his car, Shelby County coroner Tommy Sampson said. Hankinson was found Tuesday.

Hankinson, a 6-foot-8 reserve forward on the championship team, was the Celtics’ No. 2 draft pick out of the University of Pennsylvania in 1973.

Investigators are puzzled as to why Hankinson _ who lived in South Carolina _ was in Shelby County when he died.

``We really don’t know what he was doing in Kentucky,″ Sampson said. ``It doesn’t fit any of his history.″

Kentucky state trooper Glenn Walton said no suicide note was found in the car.

Hankinson’s father, Rube Hankinson, said his son had difficulty dealing with a knee injury while with the Celtics, adding that the injury ruined his son’s basketball career.

``From the time he was in high school, he dreamed of being in the NBA,″ Rube Hankinson told The State Journal of Frankfort. ``He was an excellent player. When he hurt that knee, it never did pan out. By the time he recovered, the ABA (American Basketball Association) and the NBA had merged. There was no place left for him.″

Hankinson suffered from bouts of depression after his knee injury and never recovered, his father said.

``Phil was a good kid; he was never a problem,″ said Tom Heinsohn, who coached the Celtics and Hankinson in 1977. ``He was a fine player who would have developed into a much better player″ if not for injuries.

Hankinson played 28 games in his first year as a pro, averaging 3.9 points. He played five minutes in two playoffs games during the 1973-74 championship season, scoring six points and collecting one rebound.

He played in three games the following year, averaging four points. He played a total of three minutes in two playoff games.

After his basketball career ended, Hankinson split time between New York, where his mother lived, and the Augusta, Ga., area, where his father lived.

Hankinson said his son had worked as an assistant coach in New York, worked in Florida and had been employed as a security officer in Las Vegas.

On Monday, Hankinson told his father he was leaving for Las Vegas again, Rube Hankinson said.

Phil Hankinson’s car was found in the emergency lane of Interstate 64, two miles west of Shelbyville.

Sampson said investigators found a semi-automatic handgun in the car with Hankinson. No alcohol or drugs were found in the car, he said.

Walton said the gun was a .22-caliber pistol.

Sampson said the car contained clothing, along with several copies of old resumes.

Preliminary autopsy results show Hankinson died of a single shot to the right temple, Sampson said.

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