Jeff Pearlman

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Aaron Crump

#186
When Loyola Marymount forward Hank Gathers collapsed on the basketball court in 1990, he left behind a legacy of grittiness, determination, kindness and talent. He also left behind a son. POSTED December 22, 2014

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Back when I was editor of the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, the staff chose to rename the features section. At the time, it was called—lamely—Part 2. So we decided upon five ideas, and held a vote. The winner: Serendipity.

Since that time, I’ve loved the word. In case you don’t know, it refers to a joyful accidental discovery; an uncovering of something unexpected.

Which leads to this week’s 186th Quaz Q&A.

A few weeks ago, while trying to track down former Loyola Marymount guard Bo Kimble, I Googled around the Internet, seeking out any clues to his whereabouts. Somehow, in the course of the search, I stumbled upon the words, “Hank Gathers’ son” and stopped cold. Hank Gathers’ son? Hank Gathers’ son? WTF? For those who don’t recall (or who weren’t born at the time), back in 1990 Gathers was a star forward at Loyola Marymount who collapsed on the court and died. It was enormous news; an awful tragedy that has stuck with me for nearly 25 years.

Anyhow, as is often the case, my digging took a left turn, and before long I was Facebook messaging with Aaron Crump, the son of Hank Gathers.

Take a seat, have a Pepsi and meet the son of a college basketball icon.

Aaron Crump, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Aaron, I grew up watching your dad. I remember him well at Loyola Marymount, remember his death (painfully) well—but I don’t think I ever knew Hank Gathers had a son until a few days ago. So, first, I know you work in sales, but can you tell me who you are. When you were born? Who’s your mother? What do you do? And what was it like growing up without your father?:

AARON CRUMP: It’s an honor to be Quazed. My name is Aaron Crump; son of the late, great Hank Gathers. My mother’s name is Marva Crump.

I was born on May 15, 1983 (my mother tells me she took me to the parade on Broad Street when the Sixers won the title), which makes me 31 years of age.

Earlier this year, I started a non-profit organization fittingly named The Hank Gathers Legacy Group. I partnered with one of my best friends who runs a non-profit of his own. Together, our goal is geared towards mentoring youth through not only the game of basketball, but thought-provoking discussion and community events as well. Being as though I’ve never been able to properly honor my father in the manner I feel he deserves, what better way to preserve his legacy than trying to instill what he embodied (hard work; dedication, heart, drive, focus) into the youth of today?

As for what it was like growing up without my father, well, it’s a very complex question to answer, simply because I didn’t have time with him as a conscious adult like most people. I knew of him as my dad, and from what everyone told me he was a great basketball player. But whenever I was with him I had fun and felt loved and protected. I guess, to answer your question, it was tough. The toughest thing was not having more time to compile some more good memories.

With Jeff Fryer and Bo Kimble, former Loyola Marymount teammates of Hank Gathers.

With Jeff Fryer and Bo Kimble, former Loyola Marymount teammates of Hank Gathers.

J.P.: There’s something … haunting, I think (for lack of a better word) about learning about you. Maybe that sounds weird, but it’s almost like learning a piece of someone you admired so much still exists, after you presume it’s gone. I wonder what it’s been like, for you, knowing you have this famous father, but not knowing your famous father. Is that strange? Fulfilling? Heartbreaking?

A.C.: You’ve been writing professionally for a very long time sir, and you couldn’t find a better word than ‘haunting’? Lol.

Dude, you make me sound like a ghost or an ancient artifact from basketball’s forgotten history. It’s not weird now, but it sure used to be. I look at it in almost the same way when meeting someone my father touched, only from a different perspective. I am gaining pieces of him that I never had. I was so young when he passed. When I come across people who still remember him as a great person or ballplayer, or how it made them feel when he died … I welcome those interactions now because he lives in those memories.

Even his death stirred love and compassion, which—to me—have to be two of the greatest emotions we have. If you can impact at least one person your whole life in that manner (if only your child), how can you not have done your job as a human being? That’s beyond awesome in my opinion. I didn’t always view things that way but now that I’m older and a bit more mature, I’m able to embrace it all and take the good from it. To know that you and others admired him, makes me proud to be his son.

I used to struggle a lot with not knowing my dad personally like some of the people who were close to him. How rough it was to hear stories about him when I was younger, well, that’s for another time, maybe. But I used to feel as if everyone knew him better than I did. That was, I believe, mainly out of immaturity and a sense of jealousy.

As of right now though, I don’t feel that way. You asked what it was like to have a famous father and not know him. It’s true that I didn’t get the opportunity to know him the way that some people did, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know him. I like to think that I am good father, partner and person … all things I believed him to be. These things weren’t taught; they come naturally. I know myself, so in essence, I know my father because I am partly what my father was. That inspires me to be what people knew him to be. He was an excellent role model and set me up to be a successful human being. Nobody can say for sure why we’re here on this earth, but I refuse to believe that his mission was solely to be great at the game of basketball. To me, it was just a medium for a greater purpose.

That in and of itself is fulfilling.

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J.P.: I’m pretty sure every sports fan from my era has watched the video of your father’s very public death. Have you? How many times? What was that like for you? And, in hindsight, do you blame anyone? Do you think things could have been done to prevent it?:

A.C.: I remember vividly the night he passed.

My grandmother woke me up out of my sleep and proceeded to tell me that he had passed away. I went downstairs with her to my mother who was staring at the TV, crying. It felt as if everyone was looking to me for a reaction.So I gave them one.

I cried.

The weird thing is, I only cried because I knew that was what everyone else was doing and so it seemed appropriate. I was extremely saddened, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment to grieve. Everyone else was so devastated that it kind of paralyzed me. I understood what death meant as a 6-year old, meaning I would’t be able to hang-out with him anymore. But I never felt as if he left me. To this day, I don’t feel as if my dad is gone.

True, he’s not here. But I don’t feel abandoned by Big Hank. I never have.

As for the video, I’ve seen it. Going back to the night he passed, I saw it then. I saw it once more a few days later and then maybe a couple of months ago when looking at one of his highlights on YouTube. I mean … I feel the same way now as I did then. I don’t want to actually see anyone pass away (violently or not), let alone my father. I don’t think anyone does.

I don’t blame anyone for his death. It was his time. I’ve always felt like that as well. Could there have been some preventative measures taken? Maybe. Sure. But none of us can say with confidence that whatever was to be done would have saved him. Again, I believe it was his time.

J.P.: What’s your basketball experience? Did you play high school? College? Are you any good? Do you have your dad’s height?

A.C.: I don’t have much of a basketball résumé. I played my junior and senior years at Cheltenham High School and was pretty good. I attended the Community College of Philadelphia after high school, but I’ve never played on a collegiate level. I still play, and I am absolutely better than the average basketball player (depending on who’s average), but I’m not a professional. My first cousin on my father’s side, however, is named D.J. Rivera. He plays professionally overseas for Al-Riyadi in Amman, Jordan. My other first cousin, Jordan Gathers, plays Division I at St. Bonaventure here in the states (he’s also very good).

I’m proud to say that they carry on the basketball player aspect of my father’s legacy. They’re much better than I am, but if any average Joe reads this and thinks he or she can take me out there on that court, they’ll be in for a rough evening.

I hope.

J.P.: What’s been your relationship with your dad’s former teammates at Loyola Marymount? Do you know them? Speak with them? What have they told you about your dad?

A.C.: I have pretty good relationships with Chris Knight and Jeff Fryer, both of whom played with my dad in college. I was a part of a piece Yahoo Sports did on the team this past March and they were extremely warm and shared some stories about Hank. They’re stories I don’t want to share here, but they brought me great joy. I also speak to Bo Kimble on occasion, but most of those guys haven’t seen me since I was a tike.

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With daughter Dasia.

J.P.: What’s your life path, birth to now? Where’d you go to school? Where were you raised? When did you first know about your dad? What do you want to do for a career?

A.C.: My life path is a story in an of itself. I was born and raised in North Philadelphia, where I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through the third grade. After my dad passed, my immediate family and I moved to Cheltenham, Pa., where I stayed and studied up until high school. The beginning of fourth grade was when I began to understand that lots of people knew of my father.

J.P.: When you have a father who died from heart disease, how does that impact you? Are you worried? Do you go for many checkups? Are you in good health?

A.C.: Around the time I was late into elementary school, there were lots of test that were run on me to determine if I’d be susceptible to the same type of heart disease that he had. I remember having to wear a heart monitor for several days straight at one point. I turned out to be OK and over time, I haven’t had any trouble. Again, I was too young when all of this happened to fully understand the circumstances surrounding my father’s death. Ultimately, I would like to not only raise awareness of the importance of heart screenings and preventative measures, but also to raise awareness of the man everyone knew as Hank Gathers.

J.P.: What sort of NBA player do you think Hank Gathers would have been?

A.C.: If my father were in the NBA now, it’s ridiculously hard to say what sort of player he would have been. He was a hard worker and I know he would have gotten progressively better.

I’d say he’d look like Blake Griffin in terms of athleticism; he’d have Hakeem the Dream’s handle (yeah, I said it), Karl Malone’s strength and power, along with his mid-range jumper; and a heart that can only be forged in North Philadelphia (no disrespect to any other part of the world).

Crump, (third from left) never lit up UCLA or Michigan, but he's had his moments in the Philadelphia Men's Basketball League.

Crump, (third from left) never lit up UCLA or Michigan, but he’s had his moments in the Philadelphia Men’s Basketball League. Which is more than most of us can say.

J.P.: With the passing of time, do you at all worry about people forgetting about your father? And what can you do/do you do to keep that from happening?

A.C.: At times yes, but not like you may think.

From what I’ve heard, anyone who knew my pop would be fighting an uphill battle to forget him. I feel the need to educate the younger generation that may not know of him; or know of him but nothing outside of him being a good basketball player who passed away at a young age. In my eyes, his story should be celebrated because kids need that hope. Especially those in the neighborhood where we grew up.

I don’t mean that in the sense that they can become a famous 6-foot-8 beast on the basketball court (which is certainly OK), but that if you know who you are and know who and what you want to be, and you’re willing to work hard and dedicate yourself … you can be successful in whatever you choose to do, too. Those are facts. My dad is proof.

I gravitate towards children, and I think it’s extremely important that they realize their potential. That may seem cliché or corny, but once I started to embrace parenthood, I began to realize that it’s not about me any longer. I feel I may be able to best make an impact through reaching them. That’s my goal or dream occupation, and I’m working toward being able to do that full-time in some capacity. As far as honoring my father’s legacy, I am actually working with my uncle, Charles Gathers, to produce a documentary on the re-introduction of Hank Gathers. It’s pretty cool, considering he has a background in film and he’s my dad’s brother.

I’m also working on a book chronicling my journey.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH AARON CRUMP:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tom Brady, Las Vegas, Bo Kimble, Vanilla Coca-Cola, Ron Gant, Hall & Oates, Ferraris, Sebastian Vettel, Bran Flakes, Mookie Wilson: I’m gonna go with Tom Brady, Las Vegas, Bo Kimble, Ferraris, Ron Gant, Hall & Oates, Mookie Wilson, Bran Flakes, Vanilla Coke.

• Three memories from the birth of your daughter?: 1) Me waiting for the cry when she arrived. 2) Her quieting down once she heard my voice. 3) Pulling an all-nighter in the rocking chair with her in my arms that first night in the hospital. I must have pressed the button for the nurse at least 20 times.

• What’s your all-time least favorite name for a boy?: Theophillis (No disrespect to Theophillis London. I like your music.)

• Five greatest movies of all time?: Wow. In no particular order, I’m gonna go with The Matrix (all of them), Star Wars (all of them), Harlem Nights, Avatar and The Wiz.

• Three reasons one should make Philadelphia his/her next vacation destination?: The Art Museum. The Eagles play here. We have the only real  cheesesteaks available to the world (It may say “cheesesteak” on the menu … but it’s not really a cheesesteak. I’m telling you guys. False-advertising is what is really)

• What’s the favorite of your tattoos: I have about 13 tattoos, but the one that has the most significance and meaning is the one I have of the Eye of Horus.

• What are two things you want your daughter to experience in her lifetime?: I want her to experience the feeling of unconditional love for someone outside of her immediate family. And I want her to experience the brief disappointment that comes with failure—followed by success.

• What do you think about Huey Lewis’ role in We Are The World?: I think he’s outdone even himself with that one. Lol

• Climate Change—hoax or huge problem?: I believe it’s neither.

  • blmeanie

    glad your research took a left turn, that was an interesting read

  • Marva Crump

    I am extremely proud of my first born!!!!!!

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life