Aaron Crump with his father’s former Loyola Marymount teammates, Jeff Fryer, Chris Knight (left) and Bo Kimble (far right).
Twenty-five years ago, the untimely passing of Eric “Hank” Gathers left an indelible mark on a family, a city, a university and in the hearts of two men.
Those familiar with my writing know the unwavering reverence I have for Hank. I’ve made a personal commitment to his legacy and memory which extends far beyond March 4, 1990. Hank Gathers was a brother, father, son and friend. That person deserves to be celebrated with the same passion with which we’ve mourned his loss for a generation.
The name Aaron Crump may not raise too many eyebrows, but he is the son of Hank Gathers. Crump was only seven years old when his father passed, but has fond and vivid memories to recall. The power of social media made it possible for Aaron and I to meet, speak fondly about his father and even talk about how we can continue to solidify the legacy of Hank Gathers.
I’ve always had a thing for important dates, March 4, 1990 has always been significant to me and I knew this year would be twenty-five years since Hank’s passing. I wrote pieces in 2005 and 2010 and quite honestly, I didn’t know what to do for this year. I felt like I said all I could say about Hank as eloquently as I could, so re-posting the 2010 piece was probably going to be the best thing to do.
Strangely enough, I received an InstaGram friend request from Aaron Crump last fall — his name didn’t resonate with me right away — after looking at some his photos, it hit me that he was the son of Hank Gathers. Even in that moment, it never dawned on me to request an interview with him. One day in mid-January, I finally reached out and sent the piece I wrote in 2010 along with an invitation to be interviewed. After reading the piece, he told me it was the best piece he had ever read on his father and was more than willing to speak with me — just like that. I was floored knowing this would be the ultimate tribute to Hank in my eyes. Over several conversations with Aaron, one thing that stood out was a statement he made as we introduced ourselves, he said, “The entire world knows who my father is, yet so many people don’t even know I exist.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Aaron Crump.
Ron Glover: Aaron, what are earliest memories you have of your father, which are your favorite?
Aaron Crump: Hmm…the earliest memories I have are clumped together because of the length of time that has passed; so I can’t say how old I was, but I have many. One that stands out to me is attending one of his many games in the summer. This particular one was at 16th and Susquehanna; at a time when it used to go down out there (from what I hear) I was young, and remember it being so many people there that I have no recollection of actually seeing the game.
Had to have been a championship game though, because I do remember however, the crowd clearing and him walking a trophy over that was taller than me in stature. I remember thinking “That trophy is bigger than me!”. He had me hoisted over his shoulder walking back to the car or who know’s….but I remember seeing a sea of people. Kinda figured he was REALLY good at basketball (laughs).
From the mid-1980’s to the mid 1990’s, the Duckrey basketball courts at 16th and Susquehanna showcased some of Philadelphia’s best basketball talent. Players Richardson like Jerome “Pooh” Richardson, Howie Evans and Hank Gathers were some of the pioneers of the leagues early days.
RG: Did Hank have any special sayings or nicknames just for you?
AC: Any special nicknames? Not that I can remember. The special thing about my childhood was the fact that I called my parents by “their” nicknames. Now that I am older, I call my mother mom; but I was always allowed (and even encouraged at times) to call her “Taff” and my father “Hank”. I remember my grandmother (my dad’s mom) scolding me at one point or another for doing so, only to have my father defend me and say it was fine. That was kinda like our “thing”. I thought it was cool that I could call him what the world knew him as.
RG: Was it a big deal to see your father on television?
AC: At such a young age, I’m not sure that seeing him on television resonated with me as much as one may think it would.
I was actually there for a couple of his games, and I remember that being a bigger deal to me than seeing him on TV.
RG: How often did you see Hank before he left for college?
AC: I guess in reality, I didn’t see my dad as much as I felt like he was around. I was always under the impression that his job was basketball, and so I always knew that when he wasn’t around me; that’s what he was doing. When he did come back to the city, it felt like I would be with him the whole time, which was true. So it was in bunches. Honestly, other people made the adjustment period harder for me than it actually was. I was used to not seeing him for a little bit, but I could never tell how long he was away. That sort of thing started I only begun to wonder about when I got older, but it didn’t matter.
RG: Did you ever travel to see him play?
AC: I remember traveling to the games he had here in Philly as well as practices, but not anywhere outside of PA. I remember the practices vividly.
RG: Did you ever notice that things may have been different with your father (after Hank’s first collapse)?
AC: I have one memory of my dad that when I look back on it, could have been anything. But it was definitely a moment that I think about a lot. He never explained to me that anything was wrong with him…I mean, I’m pretty sure he didn’t think he was going to pass away, so I doubt he would want me to worry. I’d rather not share at this time, but I remember.
RG: Talk to me about the last time you saw your father.
AC: This may seem weird, but I’ve never tried to recall my last memory of him. I have no clue. I just have a group of memories that I wouldn’t be able to put in chronological order even if I tried. Just a couple of good memories.
RG: If you can, describe the moment when you heard he passed.
AC: I remember my grandmother waking me up out of my sleep. Can’t remember what time of night it was, but I remember her telling me that my dad passed away and her waiting for a reaction. I remember going down stairs to my crying mother and her hugging me…but I can clearly remember everyone waiting for a reaction from me. I cried…but only because that’s what everyone else was doing, and I think I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. I honestly don’t remember having an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I was sad at the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be able to hang out with my dad anymore, but I never felt as if he was gone.
RG: Can you remember how you dealt with his loss at such a young age?
AC: Again, at such a young age, I couldn’t understand how to deal with not having my father around. I am just recently beginning to understand that I didn’t “deal” with it at all. It was too much for me to digest with all of the other stuff going on around me.
RG: As you grew older, what thing(s) became a comfort to you?
AC: Growing up, there were a couple of people who tried their best to comfort me and give me what I lacked, but as I grew older I used basketball as a way to forget about what I didn’t have in my father being around. It comforted me to play because it made me feel close to him. It’s what he did and was good at. That was my connection to him. On both my mother and father’s side, there were basketball players good enough to play on a professional level, so I guess you can say it’s in my blood. It’s not something that was forced upon me; I wanted to play. I wanted to be good like my dad, or like my Uncle Phil (Sub) Crump. I wanted it. It came natural. It was fun and continues to be.
RG: What schools did you attend?
AC: I remember every school I attended including pre-school (laughs). But, I can honestly say that when I attended high-school for the very first time, my mother sent me to Roman Catholic High…and that was thee most eye-opening experience of my teen years. Mom decided that Roman would be better for me as opposed to Cheltenham High. We talked about it and I gave her my blessing. For some strange reason, I had no idea that Roman was an all male school. One way or another, my mom conveniently forgot to mention that bit of information. I transferred to Cheltenham High halfway through my freshman year.
RG: What happens when you tell someone you’re the son of Hank Gathers?
AC: I’ve always been rather shy about telling people who my father is. In hindsight, I believe it had a lot to do with my being immature in a sense where I felt as if other people knew my father better than I did. I really didn’t understand how deal with how famous he actually was; the impact that he had on people in general as well as the game of basketball. I don’t remember the very first time I told someone who my father is, however I do remember that once my immediate family and I moved to the suburbs…I remember getting a lot of attention in my new school once people found out.
Now that I am a little bit older and more mature, I can appreciate the fact that when I tell someone who my father is, they still remember him. Most people’s faces light-up with surprise, and the people who I’ve been speaking to recently are truly genuine in their remembrance of him as a person. Again, now I can appreciate those types of reactions, which tend to make me smile more than anything.
RG: Do you feel like you were treated differently from other kids?
AC: I can’t really say that I ever noticed if I was treated any differently. I’d like to think that I was a cool enough kid, but who knows. I can say for sure though that when I got a little bit older and it was evident that I would be coming in to some money; I felt a shift in attitude towards me.
RG: Have you remained in contact with any of your father’s friends?
AC: When I was younger and my father first passed away, many of his close friends reached out initially; but over the years, the relationships didn’t develop the way that I would have liked. In hindsight, I can now understand that everyone had their own lives to lead; and although I would have like to develop longer-lasting relationships…things haven’t worked out that way. I speak to Bo Kimble every now and again, and Chris Knight has been very genuine and warm in speaking with me…But recently I’ve been building with my Uncle Charles, who’s my father’s youngest brother and Ca’Trece Masay, my father’s girlfriend at the time of his passing. They’ve been giving me a side of my father that I never knew…my father from a personal aspect, which is an awesome thing to experience.
RG: Talk to me about the ups and downs you’ve dealt with as an adult.
AC: There were many ups and downs that shaped me as a person. Of course, not having my father around to physically guide me certainly played a major factor in who I am today. As a result of my father’s passing, there was a wrongful death suit in which I was awarded 1.5 million dollars. Imagine a young black male with a ton of money and no direction. I was spending money, hanging out with the wrong people and developed some extremely bad habits — consequently leading me to make some extremely bad decisions. I pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in 2007 and spent 5 years in prison. It was simultaneously the best and worst time of my life. The worst because I was separated from everything I loved and cared about the most. I wasn’t able to properly conduct business and I had several people who took advantage of the situation I was in. It was rough to say the least. As I’ve said, it was the best time of my life as well because I got closer to God, exercised like I’ve never done before and most importantly; I became conscious of my short-comings and learned who I was as a person. That was very instrumental in my becoming mature because I was then able to begin to correct what I saw was wrong with me. I became determined to choose a better path, to become a better person. I realized that I wasn’t in that place because I was a criminal necessarily but because I didn’t have any direction or vision. Things that I have now developed.
Ironically, Aaron’s daughter Dasia Crump was born on March 3.
RG: Tell me about your life as a father.
AC: My life as a father is a learning process. I went away to prison when my daughter was 4 months old, so I missed a significant amount of time. When I first came home, I tried my best to make-up for lost time, but there’s no way that can be done. I spend as much time with her and try to teach her as much as I can by setting a good example for not only her, but my step-children as well. I have to lead by example anyway because they listen to me about 42% of the time I speak (laughs). As I experience the many joys and frustrations of being a parent, I’m beginning to believe that much of the way I handle children and fatherhood is a direct result of being my father’s son. I have no doubt that he would have been a great father to me because I consider myself to be a pretty good father and I didn’t have him around to teach me.
RG: What are you doing to keep your father’s legacy intact?
AC: My father’s legacy is one of hard work, determination and resiliency. North Philadelphia isn’t exactly a breeding ground for success, so those things were essential for him to become successful. That being said, hard work, determination and resiliency will get you nowhere if you don’t know what direction you want to take your life in. Without guidance, you will have been sitting on a mountain of endless potential; and that’s how I plan on preserving my father’s legacy. I formed the Hank Gathers Legacy Group about a year ago; geared towards helping kids realize their potential, using basketball as a medium. I appear as a guest speaker at schools, on radio shows and basketball programs that I’ve produced; telling my story in hopes that someone hears it and is inspired. If only one kid can take what I’ve been through and apply it to their own life; if it can make them think about their future…I’ve not only done my job as a human being, I will have hopefully made my father proud.
RG: If there is someone in the NBA past or present who reminds you of your father, who is it?
AC: Reminds??? No (laughs). I am extremely biased though. I will say that Blake Griffin’s athleticism is reminiscent of Pops, and the way that Anthony Davis runs the floor reminds me of him as well. But honestly, I feel as if my father was one of a kind…and he was only going to get better. His heart was forged in the heart of North Philadelphia. You can’t teach that.
RG: What do you feel when you hear the name Hank Gathers?
AC: For a long time, when I heard my father’s name I would be in awe to the point where it was embarrassing. Especially once I realized what he was able to accomplish as a man and basketball player in such a short period of time. Now that I’m a bit older and more mature, I feel a sense of pride when I hear his name and proud at the fact that people still remember him.
RG: Finally, what would it mean to you and your family to see a statue of Hank Gathers in Philadelphia?
AC: How do I feel about a statue in honor of my father??? Is this a trick question sir (laughs)? There are truly no words to express how that’d make me feel. Awestruck; elated; extremely humbled; proud. And those are just for the sake of answering your question; but nothing can really describe how that’d make me feel. I mean; Rocky stands for something in the city of Philadelphia (hard work and dedication to name a few) and he’s a fictional character. A shining example no doubt, but he has a statue.Why not Hank Gathers???He was a real person who walked among us. He went through what we go through everyday, and he overcame.
He persevered. He showed us that it doesn’t matter if you come from an unfavorable situation…that if you have drive and purpose; a vision, and your willing to work hard to make it come to fruition; you can make it. I’d love to see a Hank Gathers statue erected. In my humble opinion…that’d be dope.
RG: Let’s do it.
This is the most extraordinary feeling I’ve had as a writer. It felt like I was getting to know Hank Gathers for the first time through the eyes of his son. In the process, I got to know a young man in Aaron Crump who wanted to share his story with the world. In the past he’s spoken to other outlets who may have not been as genuine in the intentions. It was important that Aaron and I quickly found a medium that dispelled anything he had been through in previous interviews. I think when he read my piece on Hank he felt the sincerity and that was reinforced when we spoke. As someone who lost his father I could relate many of Aaron’s feelings and toward the end of the interview, emotions were heavy. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for either one of us, but I’m glad we both pushed through. I told him that we’re in this together now and this interview was just the beginning.
“As long as a man has children, he never dies” – Afrikan Proverb
*Addendum 3/29/15* Here is segment CBS aired halftime on Aaron Crump during of the Louisville/Michigan State contest – Ron Glover