Colorful Tennis Broadcaster Bud Collins Dies at 86

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Bud Collins

A legend in his adopted city of Boston, he wrote for 'The Globe' for a half-century and covered Wimbledon for 35 years at NBC.

Bud Collins, the pioneering tennis journalist and TV analyst known for his kaleidoscopic clothing and encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, has died. He was 86.

Collins, a favorite son of Boston who led the way for print journalists to become broadcasters, died Friday in his home in Brookline, Mass., The Boston Globe reported.

Collins wrote for the Globe for 50 years and worked in the NBC booth from 1972 until the network let him go in 2007. For viewers, he was as much a part of NBC’s coverage of Wimbledon as strawberries and cream.

The Ohio native stood out wherever he went, sporting bowties and colorful shirts and trousers that were custom-made from fabrics he collected around the world. One of his more famous pair of pants was fashioned from Bhutan flags he bought while traveling there in 2001.

On the air, the fun-loving Collins was famous for providing a soundtrack of grunts, groans, yelps and roars during matches. And he was fond of nicknaming the greats of the game: German champion Steffi Graf was “Fraulein Forehand,” Roger Federer “The Swiss Who Can’t Miss” and the powerful Serena and Venus Williams “Sisters Sledgehammer.”

He began his broadcasting career in 1963 at Boston public TV station WGBH, which was the first station to televise tennis broadly in the U.S.

In August, the U.S. Tennis Association announced it would name the pressroom at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the home of the U.S. Open tournament, after Collins.

“Few people have contributed as much to the sport of tennis as Bud has,” said USTA chairman of the board and president Katrina Adams. “He is a special person, a friend and mentor to many in the industry, and one who has spread his passion for the sport in so many ways. The span of his career is breathtaking.”

Born June 17, 1929, and raised in the town of Berea, Ohio, Collins as a kid was awakened on many a morning by the sound of tennis balls meeting racquets (there were a couple of courts behind his house).

In high school, he wrote about sports for the weekly Enterprise newspaper in Berea, then served as a stringer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer while he was attending Baldwin-Wallace University in his hometown.

When hurdler Harrison Dillard, a Baldwin-Wallace classmate, qualified for the 1948 Summer Olympics, Collins traveled to London on his own dime and covered the Games for his college newspaper. “It was the first of a lifetime of events I covered on the road,” he said.

After serving in the U.S. Army, Collins left Berea to attend graduate school at Boston University and was hired as a copy boy at the Boston Herald. He landed a staff writing position as a boxing writer, and his first tennis assignment was covering the Massachusetts Women’s Championships at the venerable Longwood Cricket Club.

Collins was lured to the Globe in 1963, and he would write about many sports as well as serious subjects — he covered the Vietnam War — while penning a popular travel column for decades.

His first overseas assignment for the newspaper was to cover the 1963 Davis Cup final in Australia, where he was the only American writer there.

He sat with Ashe for an hour interview on PBS after the tennis legend captured the U.S. Amateur Championships at Longwood in 1968, and that led to a job offer from CBS. With Jack Kramer, he worked the first five U.S. Opens for that network.

The opportunity to cover Wimbledon was too great to resist, and he exited for NBC, soon to be on hand for those great grudge matches featuring the likes of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. He worked often alongside play-by-play man Dick Enberg.

On Twitter, Enberg called Collins "a generous giant, a friend to anyone who cared about tennis .. .the sport's dominant voice forever."

After NBC dumped him at age 78 in a very unpopular move (“Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Sports Illustrated’s Frank DeFord. “The guy is utterly unique"), he landed on his feet at ESPN and the Tennis Channel.   

Collins, who declared himself a candidate for mayor of Boston in the late ’60s, also was an excellent tennis player (he won the U.S. indoor mixed doubles title in 1961) and even coached the game at Brandeis University at Waltham, Mass., for five years. One of his teams, which included his No. 3 singles player and future political activist Abbie Hoffman, went undefeated.

Collins wrote about tennis in The Education of a Tennis Player (with Rod Laver) in 1971, Evonne on the Move (with Evonne Goolagong) in 1974 and in the memoir My Life With the Pros in 1989.

In 1992, Collins hosted the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from New York on the USA Network, and he appeared as himself on a 2006 episode of Psych.

Collins was the recipient of the Red Smith Award, America’s most prestigious sports writing honor, and was inducted into the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 2002.