It was 1968. The U.S. Open final lasted five sets. Arthur Ashe defeated Tom Okker to win our tennis championship at Forest Hills. I remember watching Arthur on television in that major like it was yesterday.
Arthur was an amazing man. His father in his hometown of Richmond was simply a handyman and a caretaker. His early life was challenging as an African American tennis player.
He seemed to face everything with equanimity whether it was the extraordinary 1975 Wimbledon final in which he defeated his strongly favored opponent, James Scott Connors, or the great strength he showed when advised he had AIDS, a death sentence at the time. As he understood, it was the result of a blood transfusion from his second cardiovascular surgery, having suffered a heart attack only four years after his Wimbledon victory.
Arthur defined sportsmanship, humility and grace. It was only fitting that the world’s largest tennis stadium, where grand slam finals occur yearly, was named in his honor. As long as underprivileged American children are falling in love with the game and aiming at stardom, the name Arthur Ashe will be on their lips.
H. Robert Rubin, best-selling, Amazon memoirist and author of LookBackwardAngel, How Did I Get Through This? and Please Save the Third Dance for Me, all available on Amazon.