Arthur Ashe makes a shot during his
June 3, 1978 match in the French Open
Tennis Tournament against Jan Kodes
in Paris. (AP Photo)
When tennis star Arthur Ashe announced in 1992 that he was battling HIV – and then died less than a year later – his illness seemed to overshadow his illustrious career. Contracted from blood transfusions he received during heart surgery, Ashe's HIV lingered for years before it became too prominent to hide, at which point USA Today picked up on the story and broke the news. Ashe spent the rest of his time on Earth attempting to educate the public on a disease that was not yet well understood.
For most of us, legacy has more to do with how we live rather than how we die. A great athlete and trailblazer like Arthur Ashe should be remembered for his amazing achievements and accomplishments during his lifetime, not just for his final year battling AIDS and its accompanying stigma.
In that spirit, we're celebrating what would have been Ashe's 70th birthday with a timeline of his athletic triumphs. It all begins fifty years ago…
1963: High school tennis standout Arthur Ashe turns his success into a scholarship to UCLA. That same year, he becomes the first African-American player ever selected for the United States Davis Cup team – a team that goes on to defeat reigning champions Australia and take the cup.
1965: Ashe wins the NCAA singles championship and helps UCLA take the team tennis title.
1966: Having paid for college by enrolling in ROTC, Ashe fulfills his obligation by joining the Army. Assigned to West Point, he heads the academy's tennis program.
1968: Ashe wins the United States Amateur Championships and the U.S. Open. He is the first African-American man to win the U.S. Open, and the only player ever to win the two championships in the same year.
1970: A year after his discharge from the Army, Ashe wins his second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open. A few months later, he goes pro.
1972: Ashe is denied a visa by South Africa, due to their policy of apartheid, and is unable to compete in the South African Open. Ashe becomes a vocal opponent of apartheid.
1975: Ashe wins Wimbledon – a major triumph for any tennis player. Nearly 40 years later, he remains the only black man ever to take that title.
1977: Ashe is victorious once more at the Australian Open, this time playing doubles. It will be one of his last big wins before heart problems derail his career. In 1979, the athlete would suffer a heart attack and undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
1985: Ashe is elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
1988: Ashe publishes A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. The 3-volume book was the result of six years of research.
1992: Ashe is named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year for his humanitarian efforts to raise awareness about AIDS and to address health care inequalities.
1993: On June 20, Ashe is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. The posthumous award comes four months after his death on February 6, 1993.
Written by Linnea Crowther