USTA mourns death of David N. Dinkins, friend of tennis and New York City's first Black mayor

November 24, 2020

David N. Dinkins, former New York City Mayor and a 12-year member of the USTA Board of Directors has died. He was 93. The 106th mayor of the city of New York—the only African-American mayor in the city’s history—Dinkins was a great friend to the USTA and to the sport of tennis. His unparalleled charisma, peerless wisdom, singular grace, and heartfelt compassion touched countless lives—and made every one of those lives better. 


Dinkins' love affair with tennis began as a young man, traveling each summer to a Black country club in New Jersey to watch other African Americans playing the sport. His interest piqued, he became particularly intrigued by the presence and the poise of a young player named Arthur Ashe, and from that point forward, he was hooked on the sport, becoming a player himself. Indeed, well into his 80s, before health issues intervened, Dinkins was on court four times a week.


Dinkins loved tennis, and he loved the US Open. He helped to influence the tournament’s move from the country-club atmosphere of Forest Hills to a more accessible locale in Queens.  What’s more, thanks in large part to his commitment and tireless efforts while mayor, the USTA was able to secure a 99-year lease for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, ensuring that the US Open would long have a home in New York. Before leaving office, he signed legislation allowing for the expansion of the NTC, paving the way for the transformation of the site that would create the world-class facility that the NTC is today. In 2008, the area outside of the NTC’s East Gate, the very welcome mat for those who annually make the trek to New York from around the globe to experience the US Open was renamed in his honor, and is now known as the “David Dinkins Circle.”


READ MORE: Dinkins at the US Open, in photos


Dinkins served on the USTA Board for 12 years, and his keen vision and unique ability to listen, learn and bring people together—even when those people had opposing viewpoints—played a large role in shaping the USTA and enhancing its growth. Always the leader, Dinkins was committed to sharing the sport with as many people as possible—particularly with people of color—because he understood so well the sport’s power to enhance lives. In addition, Dinkins was always happy to play the role of mentor, his keen instincts and calm approach to decision-making influencing many with whom he shared the boardroom, including future USTA President Katrina Adams, who would become the first African-American to lead the USTA.


”Mayor Dinkins was the consummate professional and gentleman,” said Adams. “Tennis was his life next to his family and politics. He always saw the good in others and helping all along the way he acknowledged all by greeting them as ‘Buddy’ to make each feel recognized.


“David taught me what being a top board member meant and I was so proud to follow his footsteps along the way as the first Black to lead the USTA as CEO, President and Chairman. It meant the world to him to see that his protégé and second daughter had the leadership skills that he saw in me several years before.” 


Mostly, Dinkins always keenly understood the power of tennis to improve lives—particularly the lives of those who had long had the doors of opportunity slammed shut on them. He always saw the sport as a vehicle that could drive others just a little bit closer to their dreams. A lifetime member of the USTA Eastern Section, he was an active leader on several regional and national USTA committees, a committed member of the New York Junior Tennis League, and NYJTL Youth Centers Inc., and was deeply involved with the work of the USTA Foundation.  There always was goodness attached to his greatness. He never tired of giving back. He always saw that as his foremost duty.


“My greatest interest and concern was that people playing tennis look like this country,” Dinkins told Tennis magazine in 2010. “It has been my experience that having a seat at the table alters things.”


“We will always remember our friend for his passion, integrity, and commitment to using our sport to better the lives of others,” said USTA Chairman of the Board and President Patrick Galbraith. “We are better—as an association, as a sport, and as people—because of him. That will always be a part of his great legacy. We all will miss our friend, but we will move forward committed to preserving his legacy and continuing his good work.”

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