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Arthur Ashe: 'The Eternal Example'

  • Published Feb 13, 2009 5:00 PM

The Eternal Example (Sports Illustrated, Dec. 21, 1992)

When UCLA offered the teenager a full athletic scholarship, Arthur Ashe already personified the ideal of the student athlete. He was an honor student, and would graduate first in his class from Sumner High School in St. Louis. He was the first Black winner of the National Junior Indoor tennis title – a feat that in 1960 put his name in Sports Illustrated for the first time.

His career at UCLA more than lived up to his prep promise. Ashe was an All-American for three years, capped off by winning the NCAA singles title in 1965. The same year, the team he led as captain won the NCAA team championship. And in 1966, Ashe graduated with a B.S. in business administration. (Sports Illustrated would later opine that he used that degree "to nurture his winnings into financial independence.")

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UCLA's Student Health and Wellness Center is named for Arthur Ashe. The photo at the top of the page shows Ashe with tennis coach J.D. Morgan; Ashe is holding the 1965 NCAA Men's Singles trophy.

After graduation Ashe won the U.S. Amateur Championships and the inaugural U.S. Open before deciding to turn professional. As a pro, he was an early supporter of the Association of Tennis Professionals. Denied an opportunity to play in the South African Open, he spoke up against apartheid.

In 1975 Arthur Ashe made history as the first Black tennis player to win the men's title at Wimbledon. He played against (and defeated) a younger UCLA tennis champ, Jimmy Connors, in an unlikely all-Bruin final.

Ashe also found time for research and writing. In 1988, he published the three-volume set "A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete." Ashe later won an Emmy for his writing on the television adaptation of the book.

The last year of his life was shadowed by illness. Infected by AIDS from a blood transfusion, he still managed to finish his autobiography, "Days of Grace." He also created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

In naming him Sportsman of the Year in 1992, Sports Illustrated called him "The Eternal Example," noting that "Arthur Ashe epitomizes good works, devotion to family and unwavering grace under pressure."

Arthur Ashe died on February 6, 1993. His legacy at UCLA can be seen both in the Athletic Hall of Fame - Ashe was named a charter member in 1984 - and in the Student Health and Wellness Center that bears his name.