Auctioning Arthur Ashe

The great Arthur Ashe (courtesy of the Associated Press)

Although I don’t rank tennis as my favorite sport and only seem to watch the finals of the larger tournaments, if that, there was a time when tennis meant much more to me.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I was exposed to all sorts of sports and activities primarily through my father, who was a fitness-loving freak, for lack of a better term. One of my earliest memories is accompanying him to tennis matches at a local “country club,” which was really just a pool, a pro shop and several hard courts dropped in the middle of nowhere. We even had to drive down a long, unpaved road to get there.

At first, I didn’t understand tennis. It just looked like a lot of people in bright white outfits and wristbands banging a ball around. So my father spent some time explaining the sport to me and before I knew it, he had bought me my first racket: a stainless steel-coated, competition racket from the Arthur Ashe signature collection.

At the time, this was the cutting edge of tennis technology. Rackets with huge faces wouldn’t come along until later, so mine still had the tiny face and made every shot a challenge. I can’t remember how many times I swung at a ball and missed, but I’m sure it was in the thousands.

For several years, I took tennis lessons, frequented the courts and tried my best to be the next Bjorn Borg or Jimmy Connors, but it just wasn’t happening. Like most young people, my interests changed and tennis was relegated to nothing more than a spectator sport. And the only time I seemed to watch was when my father was watching, and that was pretty rare.

Eventually, tennis just wasn’t on my mind any more.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I started to think about tennis again, only not in the context you might think. I was an undergraduate college student with a thirst for knowledge and a strong need for self-discovery. Much of my interest centered on issues like freedom, equality and civil rights, especially with regard to my African-American brothers and sisters.

I read the work of important figures like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and countless others, all in an effort to understand the struggles of this marginalized population. Since I grew up in a town where “racial diversity” essentially meant “black and white,” I was exposed to black people at an early age and had so many black friends that I never thought twice about it. As I got older and more aware of the issues my black friends faced, however, I felt impelled to learn more and eventually became a strong advocate for racial equality.

Ashe in his later years (courtesy of

It was only a matter of time before I heard the name Arthur Ashe again. Unfortunately, it happened in 1993, the year he died of the AIDS he contracted through a blood transfusion years earlier. Memories of my childhood tennis experiences came rushing back, so I decided to dig a little deeper into the life and career of this important figure.

There can be little doubt of Arthur Ashe’s impact on tennis, sports in general and, most importantly, racial tolerance . In 1968, he became the first black man to win the U.S. Open; he did the same at Wimbledon in 1975. After being forced to disclose his AIDS in 1992–when USA Today decided to run a story about his condition–Ashe became an activist to help increase AIDS awareness. His non-profit foundation, the Arthur Ashe Learning Center, continues to promote his legacy today.

The 20th anniversary of Ashe’s death is February 6th and an auction of his memorabilia will take place next week. A portion of the proceeds will go directly to his foundation, so I for one hope it’s a big success. And the list of items for sale is pretty interesting.

For a mere $1000, you can purchase the U.S. passport Ashe used in 1973 to enter the South African Open. Since apartheid was in full swing at the time, Ashe was denied entry repeatedly before finally being allowed to participate. The passport includes the official entry stamp he eventually received.

Also on sale–if you can call $2500 a bargain–is the day planner Ashe used in 1993, the year he died. Handwritten notes chronicle his final days and even though it seems a little morbid and sad, a die-hard Arthur Ashe fan would likely find it very compelling.

Personally, though–and if I had enough to afford them–I would probably go for the tennis legend’s wisdom teeth, which will also be on the auction block. And I’m sure they’ll be much closer to my price range.

Incidentally, I have a lot of my own personal memorabilia for sale if anyone’s interested. Granted, I’m not famous and likely never will be, but I assure you my prices can’t be beat!

Posted on February 1, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Because of the general low key nature of tennis & it’s fans most folks don’t realize the significance of the contributions to both tennis and racial equality that Ashe made. Like most African Americans at that time he had to battle for the very chance to achieve everything he achieved Great Post!

    • I appreciate that, Marty. And you’re right. These days, people seem to pay more attention to athletes who are also activists. Ashe had to struggle and deserves to be recognized for his achievements. And honestly, I’m just glad someone out there knew who he was! LOL

      • LoL! I’m 48 soon to be 49. I remember him from the days of my youth oh so many years go, Why it seems like only yesterday that I hobbled out into the street braced myself against my cane and kicked over that can… Oh wait that was yesterday, things get a little confused sometimes… 😉

      • I know exactly what you mean, Marty. You may have me by a few years (not many), but I am definitely feeling the effects…

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