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Black History Month

Arthur Ashe: Reflections on a Champion

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By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com

"From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe 
 
The United States Tennis Association remembers the passing of Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. 20 years ago today, on Feb. 6, 1993. Ashe was just 49 years old at the time of his death, and he lives on in the hearts and minds of tennis fans worldwide for his display of heart, courage and class—both  on and off the court.
 
A member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Ashe’s achievements in the sport include five career Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles, among them the first US Open men’s singles title in 1968—the first year of Open tennis. Ashe remains the only black man to win the singles title at the US Open, Wimbledon or Australian Open. 
 
Before turning professional, Ashe was first African-American to play on the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1963 at the age of 20. He went on to attend UCLA on a tennis scholarship and won the 1965 NCAA singles and team national championships as a Bruin. The next year Ashe joined the army and served from 1966 to 1969. Ashe spent part of his service time at the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York, where he headed the academy’s tennis program.
 
A year after his US Open victory, Ashe joined forces with former UCLA teammate Charlie Pasarell and Dr. Sheridan Snyder to form the National Junior Tennis League (NJTL, now known as National Junior Tennis & Learning network), nationwide tennis and education program. NJTL continues its good work today, with 621 active programs and 316,025 participants across the country.
 
Bringing people together and overriding prejudice on a global scale was Ashe’s fierce passion and life’s work. Normally a reserved personality, Ashe was outspoken when it came to matters of race, utilizing  his celebrity to bring light to social injustice when necessary. Already an established civil rights advocate at home, he also famously fought for racial integration in apartheid-plagued South Africa. 
 
Ashe’s hometown of Richmond, Va., posthumously honored him with a statue on the city’s famed Monument Avenue, a progressive landmark placed in a row once reserved for statues of key figures of the Confederacy. The 12-foot bronze statue features Ashe hoisting two books high above his head in his right hand, representing education, and a tennis racquet in the left, representing athletics. The next summer, the USTA christened Arthur Ashe Stadium as the centerpiece of the US Open.
 
Now, 20 years after his death, Ashe’s legacy remains strong and vibrant to all those who knew, remember me and celebrate his life and achievements to this day.
 
Here are some reflections:
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Donald Dell
Former U.S. Davis Cup Captain, longtime friend and agent:
 
"Arthur had a quiet magnificence about him. That people still remember him very strongly, so vividly and intensely is to his credit. Over 20 years, the memories have not been dulled or lessened. As time passes, a lot of the changes he wanted came to pass: diversity in American tennis is quite extraordinary, with Venus and Serena Williams, along with Sloane Stephens finding success. He would have been a big supporter of president Obama – I think Arthur, had he lived, would have explored politics and that would have made him very happy as well. All those things add up, and for me, I loved him dearly – he was my best friend. He was really, really unique. He believed that people were more good than bad, always was one to turn the other cheek."

 

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Katrina Adams
USTA First Vice President and former professional player:
 
"Arthur was a true pioneer of sport, not just tennis. His humanitarian efforts spoke volumes and his leadership is untouched. The first time I met him was at a clinic in Detroit in 1981. He said that I ‘had a great game'. At age 13, who knew what that really meant coming from him? But now, I realize what an honor it was to be recognized by such a legend, a true champion in life."

 

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Todd Martin 
USTA Board member and former professional player:
 
"My first memories of Arthur Ashe are from early childhood , learning about all he had accomplished in the game and off the court. I met Arthur while in college and was star-struck.  I remember him to be kind and serious, but not without a sense of humor. I would have loved to have had more time with him. When founding the NJTL chapter in Lansing, Michigan, I learned even more about how much he impacted lives around the world. To be able to carry on Arthur's legacy with NJTL is a great honor."

 

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Barbara Wynne
Founder & Chairperson, Arthur Ashe Essay & Art Contest:
 
"Though the late Arthur Ashe passed away 20 years ago, his memory lived on through many on-going organizations and projects. I told Arthur in 1992 that all of activities in tennis would be dedicated to him. He has energized me through the life he lived and the philosophy of tennis and life that he shared with me. I was honored to me named an honorary pall bearer by Arthur Ashe's family. I consider that one of the greatest honors of my life."

 

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D.A. Abrams
USTA Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer:
 
"I first learned of Arthur in July of 1976. I was watching a tennis match on the local PBS television station. I remember thinking that if he could hit the ball so effortlessly, then I surely could play tennis too. My first tennis experience came via the NJTL of Philadelphia, and I went on to participate in NJTL activities through age 17. After completing college, I served as the Recruitment Director for the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center located in Philadelphia. It was there that I met Mr. Ashe in person and got the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to me. There is not a day that goes by without me thinking of what Arthur Ashe has meant to me, on and off the court."

 

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Deborah Antonie
President & CEO, New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL):
 
"I knew Arthur Ashe primarily as a parent at Marymount School.  My daughters attended school with Camera.  Arthur was an active parent, and was so incredibly humble … just another parent who cared about his child—and everybody’s children. Through his legacy, children are still cared for today.  New York Junior Tennis & Learning’s mission is to instill the values of Arthur Ashe in children.  It is such a wonderful honor that I now run NYJTL, and I feel so very special to remain connected to Arthur in this way." 

 

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