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September 28, 2003

RIP Althea Gibson

It's probably not fair to talk about myself, Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe in the same sentence. We don't have very much in common. But knowing that Gibson had done what she had done made it easier for me to believe I could do what I wanted.

There may have been a time that I thought I might like to play tennis, but it was strictly part of its snob appeal. There were courts in the neighborhood over by the public pool. The local pro was a fellow who went by the name of 'Bruzz' or 'Buzz'. So we knew that there were black tennis players around the way. We mostly cared about putting old tennis balls in the spokes of our bicycle wheels.

Tennis seemed incredibly rich. This was back in the days when a christmas bicycle costing $60 was worth waiting the entire year. So spending $2 or $3 for three white balls was unthinkable. Just looking at those huge baskets of balls spilling over in the corners of the courts made us delerious. In those days, all the balls were white and nobody thought the new yellow balls would last. So we kids who hung out on the periphery of the tennis courts waiting for a prize to fly over the fence most eagerly coveted a Slazenger. It had a black panther on it.

Not only did Gibson play tennis, she wore a short fro. She wasn't particularly glamorous, but she did what she did in spite of everyone's preconceptions. She was an incontestable fact and proof that we as a people could do anything at all, considering that nobody really wanted to do what she did.

Ashe changed all that of course. He was a man of action and intelligence. Whatever kind of glasses he wore were the kind I wanted to get on my next trip to the L.A. Eye Clinic on Vermont and Vernon. Big square tortoiseshells with photogrey? Thin rectangular gold rim? Ashe was king, a cool calm and collected King. Not for long, but long enough to underscore Gibson's point.

They are both dead and should have lived to see the Williams sisters finally dominate. But I have a feeling they had larger dreams than just tennis. I hope we are doing right by their memories.

Posted by mbowen at September 28, 2003 01:25 PM

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Althea Gibson Dies from Backcountry Conservative
Althea Gibson, who I featured in the Blogathon back in July, has died in New Jersey at the age of 76. Update: Cobb discusses the impact Gibson and Arthur Ashe had on his childhood.... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2003 09:25 AM


I am studying Althea Gibson. Did you see her play tennis? Tell me about the balls with the Black Panther on it?!

Thank you
Joyce Hawkins

Posted by: Joyce at October 22, 2004 12:27 PM