Bud Collins, a passionate advocate for tennis whose relationship with the sport began more than a half-century ago, died Friday in his home in Brookline, Mass., according to the Boston Globe. Collins was 86.
Collins was an influential tennis writer and historian and revolutionized sports journalism when he began to offer commentary on camera in the early 1960s. Despite his failing health, Collins traveled last September to New York for the U.S. Open, where the media center was dedicated and named in his honor.
“Bud was larger than life, and his countless contributions to the sport helped to make it the global success that it is today,” the U.S. Tennis Association said in a statement. “Bud was a mentor to many, and a friend to many more. Our sport was most fortunate to be associated with a man of such character and class, and we were privileged to have had the chance to honor his lasting legacy to the sport by naming the U.S. Open Media Center in his honor last year. He will be sorely missed by all of us who loved him—and by the sport he loved so dearly.”
Born Arthur Worth Collins, he was simply known as “Bud” to those in the tennis community and his TV audience. A native of Berea, Ohio, Collins’s first love was baseball and the newspaper business. He didn’t know much about tennis growing up, but began covering the sport for the Boston Herald in the late 1950s, starting at the Massachusetts Women’s Championship at Longwood Cricket Club. It was then that Collins acquired a true appreciation for the sport.
“I never gave tennis much thought,” Collins told me in 2014 when I interviewed him for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. “I covered a couple of other tournaments, but as far as going to Forest Hill for U.S. Championships, no one at the Herald was interested. My appreciation for tennis grew as I watched the tournament at Longwood. I tried to follow tennis as closely as I could, reading everything I could on it.”
Collins was hired by the Boston Globe to write a general sports column in 1963. He noted that he was allowed to write about tennis as much as he wanted.
In 1966, Greg Harney, the producer for Boston’s Public Broadcasting Service, WGBH, approached Collins to do commentary for live tennis matches. It would be a gig that revolutionized sports journalism and made Collins a pioneer in his field.
“I began doing the commentary, and I just kept doing it for a long time,” Collins told me. “It was something totally unexpected in my life, and it’s probably the thing I’m best known for. More people see you on the television than they read you. We reached people that never had any interest in tennis or television. We covered tournaments all over the world including places like Australia, Japan, Sweden and Italy.”
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994, Collins was the recipient of a number of journalism awards, including the Red Smith Award in 1999 by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He wrote several books, including “The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book.”
At the U.S. Open, Collins would sit in the same seat every day, greeting fellow journalists and wearing his colorful, custom pants that were his signature. Tributes having been pouring in on social media from those in journalism and tennis.
“Count me among those who have straggled through tennis media rooms often enough yet only every so often,” Washington Post reporter Chuck Culpepper wrote in a tribute. “Yet maybe our vantage point is valuable, because we’re the lot who knew Bud Collins only somewhat. So we’re the ones who would walk up to him as strangers, or semi-strangers, or reintroduced strangers, seeking help and insight, and then and there we would learn a truth: That was as decent, as wondrous and as sparkling a man as ever walked around — and around, and around — this Earth.”