The only thing Reggie Hannah wanted was to be remembered.
As a young man he hoped it would be for basketball. But in the end he is remembered for so much more.
He battled the demons of addiction for many years, spending a few stints in prison and finding himself living on the streets. But Hannah fought back and in the end the only Titusville basketball player to have his number retired will be remembered not only for his legendary skills on the court but also as a loving father and a fighter.
Reggie fought and vanquished the nightmare of addiction these last few years with the help of an old coach and his faith in Jesus Christ. He also fought the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with only three weeks ago right to the end.
“He was the sweetest man,” said his oldest child, 38-year-old Latasha Hanna who was at his bedside when he took his last breath late last week. “To me, he was doing so much better. I was proud of him. He fought this.”
Reggie Hannah, who played for the Florida Gators, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers and who starred overseas playing basketball in Europe, died late last week at the age of 56. He is survived by his children: Latasha, Amanda, Yasmine, Christopher, David , Khelyn and Kisha.
Reggie grew up without a father on some of the toughest streets in Titusville but was lucky enough to find Titusville High School basketball coach Kirk Stewart when he was only 12. Stewart mentored the boy, taking him fishing and spending time with him. But he was also stern when he had to be, like a father. The pair would eventually lead Titusville to a pair of state basketball appearances in the 1970s.
Reggie is regarded by many as the finest basketball player Brevard County has ever seen. At 6-foot-10, the all-everything player had his choice of college programs to play for. He whittled down the choices to Florida and Kentucky. But with a new baby on the way, Reggie chose to stay close to home and play for the Gators.
“I’m the reason he went to Florida,” Latasha said. “I was always a daddy’s girl and I followed in his footsteps.” She would play basketball at Astronaut High School and then later at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.
Reggie stayed close with his old coach through the years.
Retired Titusville High School math teacher Dale Mays commented a few years ago that “Reggie had no greater friend or better mentor than Kirk (Stewart)… I know that Reggie loved Kirk like no one else in his life and that he is forever thankful that Kirk was his coach, his teacher, his best and life-long friend.”
Reggie starred for the Gators but before his senior year decided to transfer to a school with a winning team so he would get drafted by the NBA. He wound up at Southern Alabama and the Cleveland Cavaliers made him the 70th player chosen in the 1982 NBA Draft.
Despite outplaying the team’s first draft pick — John Bagley — during training camp, the team had already invested money in Bagley and let Reggie go. He decided to go and play basketball in Europe.
He played 14 seasons throughout the continent in Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere. He got married, divorced and made a lot of money.
Zosja Lodewijk met Reggie when he was playing in the Netherlands in 1987.Three years later another daughter was born — Amanda Regina — who was named after him. Two years later the couple’s second daughter, Yasmine, was born.
Reggie’s basketball days were coming to an end and by 1993 he was back in the states, back in Tutusville, back on those tough streets. But this time he didn’t seek out his mentor and old coach. Instead he started slinging coke and using.
His life spiraled.
“The contact was difficult because he was in and out of jail,” Lodewijk said. “I always promised my girls that one day I would trace him and reunite them with their dad.”
And she did. Tracking him down in prison in 2006 and writing him a letter.
A year later she visited him with her younger daughter.
“It was emotional and nice to see him after all these years,” she said. “My oldest daughter didn’t feel the need to see him that time. My life with Reggie was not a bed of roses but I am happy I met him. I have two beautiful daughters and they remind me of my ‘gentle giant’ every day.”
Reggie faced guns, addiction, violence and prison. He was too ashamed to reach out to family,and especially embarrassed to reach out to his former coach. But when Coach Stewart heard that Reggie might have taken up residence under a bridge, he put the word out on the street that he needed to speak with him. Finally, Reggie reached out to him.
“I told him I was sick of living like this,” Reggie told me in 2013. The following morning, the old coach picked Reggie up and took him to Walk-About Ministries in Titusville, a Christian facility for those battling the scourge of drugs. Reggie stayed for five months. And his journey of redemption had begun but his old coach would not see how it turned out, succumbing to cancer a few months later.
Reggie spoke at his memorial, determined to make his old coach proud.
“It was really hard to see him struggling (with drugs),” Latasha said. “But I always stuck by my daddy’s side. I talked to him about it. I tried to get him to move to Atlanta where I am. Finally one day he said he was done with it. he was doing better.”
But Reggie’s journey would be cut short.
Just a few weeks ago he spoke with Latasha and told her he thought he had cancer.
“The breath just left my body,” she said.
It shocked the oldest of his two daughters living in the Netherlands as well, the one who did not come see him while he was in prison.
“She asked me if it was possible to go to the states to meet him,” Lodewijk said. “I worked my butt off and we were ready but it was too late, he passed. So very sad.”
One of the last things Reggie told Latasha was that he had a “real good life” because he was loved by so many people.
“I just wanted to be remembered as a legend,” he told her.
“You were a legend for Titusville,” she pleaded.
“You’re going to find me in front of the tree of life,” he whispered. “I’ve had a great life.”
Something tells me there’s an old coach, whistle hanging from neck and ball in hand and a pair of fishing rods nearby waiting for Reggie by that tree.