DENVER (AP) – Hashim Khan’s family and friends swapped stories as they mingled near the squash court bearing his name.
They watched a documentary about the life of one of the game’s greatest players in a room at the Denver Athletic Club that houses many of his trophies. They gazed at photos of him hanging on the walls and even cut into a squash-themed cake.
A fitting final farewell to Khan, who got things rolling on Pakistan’s squash supremacy many decades ago. Khan died Monday of congestive heart failure. He was believed to be 100 years old.
“This would definitely have meant a lot to my father,” his son, Sam, said Saturday as more than 100 people gathered around the squash courts for the tribute. “He would’ve been thrilled, because that was the most important thing to him: To be with his friends and family.”
The stories flowed all afternoon. They talked about his mastery on the court – even poking fun of his pot belly – and his friendliness away from it.
Khan captured the first of his seven British Open titles in 1951 and then taught his brother, Azam, the art of the game. Azam Khan went on to win four more crowns.
Although around 94 years old, Azam Khan made the trip from London to honor his brother. He sat in a chair and listened to the tales about his older brother.
Then, he added a few of his own. Like how Hashim Khan convinced him to swap a tennis career for squash. Azam Khan became quite skilled at the game, too, with only one person in the world consistently able to beat him – his brother, of course.
“Hashim was too good,” Azam Khan said. “He was untouchable.”
Just how he became so good at squash is part of Hashim Khan’s story. He was a self-made player who simply learned by watching others.
He was exposed to squash through his father, Abdullah, a chief steward at a British officer’s club in Peshawar. Back then, the youngster would go to the outdoor courts to watch the officers play and fetch their errant shots.
And when the officers went inside to cool off, Khan walked onto the court and emulated their shots wearing no shoes, holding a broken racket and using a well-worn ball.
Khan’s father died in a car accident when he was 11, and he dropped out of school to become a full-time ball boy. He honed his skills playing the officers in friendly games. He later became one of the club’s squash coaches.
At 37 – and at the behest of the Pakistan government eager for a national hero – Khan went to the British Open, considered the most prestigious tournament. He beat the best player in the world, Mahmoud El Karim of Egypt, 9-5, 9-0, 9-0, for his first title. His last was at 44.
He then traveled to Detroit and finally to Colorado to raise a family of 12 and teach a younger generation the nuances of squash.
“Hashim was a Zen master,” said Marshall Wallach, who took lessons from Khan and later started a foundation in his honor. “He was always teaching us, ‘No hit tin,’ which was not a bad lesson for life, either. He was saying, ‘Don’t get in your own way. Don’t be your own worst enemy.'”
After the festivities, five of Hashim Khan’s kids stayed at the club to honor their dad with some squash.
“He would’ve been very happy and proud of us for playing,'” Mo Khan said. “This whole day would’ve meant the world to him.”
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