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On Friday, Bud Collins died. He was 86.
Beginning in the ‘60’s, Bud wrote about lots of sports — boxing, for example, and baseball sometimes. I remember one especially delightful column about a crowd of fearless children who’d climbed up the outside of Fenway Park to see a game…and the police officer, waiting patiently for them to climb down.
But Bud was best known for his tennis writing, and for his work as a television commentator from Wimbledon, the US Open, and various other havens of the game that was so fortunate to have Bud on its side.
He was almost as well-known for his sartorial splendor — more specifically for the gaudy pants that became a kind of trademark. In our conversation during the 2002 French Open, I mentioned to Bud that one of the players, Jeff Grant, had noted Bud’s trousers.
"I think he had some kind of green and pink pastel with some flowers," Grant told me. "Vintage Bud."
I asked Bud for comment, and he responded, "I can categorically state that I have been paid by no one to wear anything. And no one would pay me to wear anything, and most people are surprised when I even pay for those creations."
Bud was also known for the nicknames he invented for many of the tennis players he covered and befriended. Ilie Nastase was the Bucharest Buffoon. Steffi Graf was Fraulein Forehand. Stan Smith was The Leaning Tower of Pasadena.
Bud also liked to employ elaborate — not to say tortured — metaphors in his columns. He could get away with all that because he was exceptionally well-informed about the game he loved, and because the players liked Bud, and some of them spoke to him with a candor evident nowhere else.
He knew tennis. And as a young man, he’d played it well. He was a doubles champion. He told me once that Billie Jean King had said that with the proper coaching, he could have been adequate.
He laughed when he said that. He laughed when he said a lot of things.
Bud was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994.
But what most distinguished Bud Collins had nothing to do with tennis or fame. He was kind. In one of our conversations, I mentioned an instance of boorish and embarrassing behavior by the father of one of the young women on the tennis tour. Bud smiled and said, “Well, he was over-served.”
I knew Bud for a long time, but I learned first-hand of his kindness and his generosity of spirit before we ever met. During the ‘70s, I’d cobbled together several jobs. I wanted to be a writer, but I hadn’t done much writing. I had a column for the sort of newspaper that shows up on your doorstep whether you want it or not. I think they were paying me $10 for it. I had no idea whether anybody ever read it, until one day I got a letter on Boston Globe stationary. It was just a note, actually, and it read, “Your writing is enough to make a fellow jealous.” It was signed Bud Collins.
If you’re a writer, I don’t have to tell you what encouragement like that can mean. Maybe you know even if you’re not a writer.
Bud’s death is the occasion for sadness, of course. The world in general and Boston in particular are diminished by his departure. But it’s also the occasion for celebrating the life of a fellow who inspired a lot of people to smile, and to laugh, and to take themselves and everything else a little less seriously than they might have done had it not been for Bud Collins.
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