What happens when I’m as old as Bud Collins?

On Monday I celebrated my 58th birthday. I passed my eye test at the DMV without needing glasses, a miracle in itself, and went to Staples where they finally found a self-inking rubber stamp I’d ordered in January. That was good news because I was beginning to wonder if I was growing old and losing my mind. No I’m not, I really did order a rubber stamp with my address on it.

All day long I couldn’t help thinking about Bud Collins. This year’s Wimbledon was Bud’s last appearance on NBC’s coverage of the event, he’s been let go after 35 years of interviews and features on tennis broadcasts. Evidently he received the news in a voice message from his boss at NBC, Ken Schanzer.

Bud is 78 years old. That means I have 20 years more to dig my way into the world of tennis before I’m sent out to pasture and shipped off to the professional version of a rest home.

I worked next to Bud at Indian Wells and Davis Cup. He was a friendly, helpful guy and he probably doesn’t remember me that well because he was friendly and helpful to everyone. I remember him, though, because most tennis journalists are too busy figuring out how they can possibly extract anything other than platitudes and clichés from today’s players to worry about a new person in the media center. Not Bud, though, that’s just the way he is.

Bud not only helped new journalists, he also helped tennis players. In 1988, he interviewed eighteen-year-old Natasha Zvereva after she lost the 1988 French Open final to Steffi Graf. Zvereva held her prize money and said that she wished the Russian Tennis Federation would change something, “you know what I mean,” she said. Collins knew what she meant and helped her out by filling in the blanks: “You would like them to pay you the money you’ve just won.” At the time, players had to turn all of their prize money over to the Russian Tennis Federation.

Zvereva held the check up and said: “This $24,000, it’s not money, just the paper.” One of her handlers squirmed uncomfortably in the stands and shook his finger in protest. He wasn’t quite as brave as Zvereva. Shortly after her comments, the Russian Tennis Federation changed its policy to allow players to keep their prize money.

I have no idea how far I’ll go before I’m finished with tennis, but if I manage to make it into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, write a few tennis books including an encyclopedia of tennis, win a Red Smith award for outstanding sports journalism, and become so popular that I can’t walk across Wimbledon without fans stopping me constantly to ask for my autograph and have their pictures taken with me, all of which applies to Bud Collins, I hope my employer will at least show me the respect of delivering my retirement papers in person.

In return for my years of exemplary service, I also hope my boss will give me enough notice of my dismissal that I can make one more round of my favorite haunts and collect some of the praise and admiration I’ve earned. I’ll still be out to pasture but the appreciation might ease the pain and separation of becoming obsolete.

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