Roger Brigham, a San Francisco sportswriter, sat with Glenn and was overcome by the senselessness of it all. “It just seemed like such a tragic combination of events in his life where he could not have the strength of freely being who he was,” Brigham recalled. “If ever anybody paid a price for his sexuality and prejudice against it, it was Glenn Burke. God knows how he could have flourished as a pro athlete if he had been given a grain of support.” When former minor league teammate Larry Corrigan paid a visit, the conversation turned to basketball. Corrigan asked Burke to name the five greatest players of all time. “Magic, Jordan, Kareem, Larry Bird, and me!” Glenn replied, his sense of humor intact until the end. If he had one regret in life, he told Corrigan and others, it was not pursuing a basketball career.
And there were those who didn’t come to visit, friends and family members who, like many others in the country, were afraid to be in the presence of someone with AIDS. “I was squeamish about it,” Glenn’s old playground pal Jon Nikcevich said decades later. “So I didn’t go see him. That was one of the worst deeds of my life. Oh, if I could go back. You don’t have that many friends who are always there for you. He always had my back.”
When Lutha came home from work one evening in late May, a nurse who had been attending to Glenn told her she didn’t want to go home that night; Glenn’s readings were low, and she thought he might be about to die. That was troubling news for Lutha, not only because her brother’s death sounded imminent, but also because she had to go to work in the morning. If Glenn didn’t pass away until the next day, Lutha didn’t want her young children to be home without their mother when it happened.
In the morning, she called an AIDS hospice program at the Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, just south of Oakland. But when a medic arrived to pick up Glenn, he didn’t show up in a nice van or ambulance, but in an open-bed truck. Lutha and Glenn’s nurse were mortified. Lutha recalled sending the truck away and asking for an ambulance instead. Already late for work, Lutha caught a bus to the Claremont. “I’m just trying to hold on to my job,” she said. “I’m the only one my kids have.”
After work, she hurried back to the hospital, where Glenn seemed to be feeling a little better, well enough that his appetite had returned. He requested some of Lutha’s specialties, and she stayed up until one a.m. fixing ribs, collard greens, potato salad, and sweet potato pie.
“And he ate like a champ,” Lutha recalled. “Every time he sat up the next day, he was eating. I told myself there was no way he was going to die after eating this food.”