fb-pixel Skip to main content
DAN SHAUGHNESSY

The inimitable Bud Collins was all aces

At the 2009 US Open in New York, Bud Collins interviewed Venus and Serena Williams — or, as he dubbed them, “Sisters Sledgehammer.” Rob Tringali/Getty Images/File 2009/Getty

Bud Collins died Friday at the age of 86.

If you ever met Bud, you know he was brilliant, clever, generous, funny, knowledgeable, and irreverent.

If you never met Bud . . . I am so sorry. You missed out.

The inimitable Arthur “Bud” Collins Jr. came to the Globe in 1963 and regaled our readers with colorful writing and in-depth analysis for more than a half-century. He invented the role of sportswriter-turned-TV-analyst when he joined NBC for a 35-year run as the voice of tennis.

Bud literally wrote the book on his sport of expertise. It was called “Bud Collins’ Tennis Encyclopedia.’’ In truth, Bud Collins himself was the Encyclopedia of Tennis. In the press room of any tennis event, Bud’s workstation served as the go-to destination for writers in need of history or perspective on the sport. Fittingly, the US Open media center at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows last summer was officially named after Bud Collins.

Bud will forever be associated with tennis. He was a national mixed doubles champion when he was a young man. He coached Abbie Hoffman when the young radical was hitting drop shots for Brandeis in 1959 (Bud always said Hoffman had a conservative game at the net).

Advertisement



Bud’s flamboyant trousers — plaid, paisley, madras, the louder the better — became his fashion signature. His humor, in print and on television, brought life and color to a sometimes somber sport.

Bud was fun. He invented some of the great tennis nicknames. Ilie Nastase was “The Bucharest Buffoon.’’ Eddie Dibbs and Harold Solomon were “The Bagel Twins.” Venus and Serena Williams were “Sisters Sledgehammer.’’ And only Bud could get away with using the last name of champion Bjorn Borg to describe the convulsive responses the Swedish dreamboat inspired in some of his fans.

Advertisement



On any given day at the Australian or French Open, Bud could work the booth, get the postmatch interview, write a couple of stories for the Globe, and make it to dinner for a long evening of pasta, wine, and storytelling. All the big-time tennis players knew him and respected him.

I remember watching television one day when Chris Evert was playing Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final. Per usual, Bud was assigned the difficult task of interviewing both contestants after the match. In the painful seconds after an exhausting and excruciating loss in a championship event, professional athletes are not usually interesting in the postgame Q-and-A.

It was different, of course, if the reporter was Bud Collins. Still sweating, near tears, Evert came off the court, saw Bud standing there with the mic and greeted our intrepid reporter with, “Nice pants, Bud.’’

Television magic, for sure, but my favorite Collins TV moment forever will be that day at Wimbledon when the camera took a shot of Princess Margaret in the Royal Box. Typical for tennis, it was deadly quiet when the lens homed in on the box, and no doubt the folks in the TV truck were aghast when Her Highness picked her nose as her image was flashed to millions.

Bud knew what to do.

“Great forehand,’’ he told the NBC audience.

Bud’s wealth of wit and expertise was not reserved for tennis alone. He delighted in telling us of the night drunken Red Sox manager Mike “Pinky” Higgins smashed Bud’s face into a plate of beef stroganoff.

Advertisement



Bud covered the 1967 Red Sox Impossible Dream season. I still have the Globe’s Page 1 featuring Jim Lonborg being carried off the field after he beat the Twins on the final day of the regular season. Under the photo is a story headlined, “Sox Barely Escape Screaming, Streaming Fans,’’ written by Bud Collins.

The last time I saw Ted Williams in Hernando, Fla., an ailing Teddy Ballgame asked about Bud and said, “You tell him he’s the greatest tennis commentator of all time! He’s such an ambassador for that sport. He’s just great. And I remember he wrote a lot of crap about me, too!’’

Bud covered Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, and young Cassius Clay. In 1965, Bud rode Muhammad Ali’s bus from Miami to Chicopee Falls when the young champ was training for his second bout with Sonny Liston.

Though he walked with kings, Bud was a man of the people. In the summer of 1974, Lesley Visser, Kevin Paul Dupont, and myself were wide-eyed college kids lucky to be answering phones in the same department with the giants of sportswriting who worked at the Globe.

Ray Fitzgerald, Leigh Montville, Will McDonough, John Ahern, Neil Singelais, Clif Keane, Fran Rosa, Jack Craig, Larry Whiteside, Peter Gammons, Joe Concannon, John Powers, Bob Ryan, and Bud were the celebrated knights of the keyboard — some bound for television and many destined to wind up in the Hall of Fame of their respective fields of expertise.

Advertisement



Bud wasn’t around as often as the others. He was always traveling the world, and we’d fight to see his latest dispatch coming across a machine called a telecopier, which delivered single sheets of prose at the amazing speed of one page every six minutes.

Every few months, Bud would swoop into the department, tanned, loud, sporting some ridiculous pants and maybe a pastel sweater with the arms tied around his neck. He was there to pick up his considerable mail and drop off his exotic expenses.

Though he hardly stopped moving, he somehow had a moment and a kind word for every one of us. If the phone rang — a BNBL score or perhaps some drunk in a bar trying to settle a bet (“Marciano or Joe Louis?”) — Bud would pick up the phone and exclaim, “Globe sporting!’’

Bud Collins’s commemorative plaque at the US Open media center reads, “Journalist, Commentator, Historian, Mentor, Friend.’’

He was all of the above. And much more.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.