Forty one years ago the late Arthur Ashe and his agent Donald Dell had a conversation about a tennis tournament that would be played in the Nation’s Capital. Dell, Ashe’s attorney and dear friend, needed him to play in the tournament to add credibility to the fledgling event. However, the soon to be Wimbledon champion would only commit under one scenario to play in what would become the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
“Arthur said to me in 1969 when he was on my Davis Cup team that if you play it in a genuinely integrated environment I’ll play in it,” Dell recalled on The SportsGroove Radio Program. “That’s why we play over in the park on 16th & Kennedy because it is integrated and has been that way for over 50 years. Arthur played there 10 times keeping his end of the deal”.
That defined the bond between Ashe and the 2009 International Tennis Hall Of Famer whose relationship was more than just business. After coaching Ashe for two straight Davis Cup titles in 1968 and 1969, he became Dell’s first client as a sports agent. The only contract between them was a “handshake agreement” for the next 23 years and it was a life changing experience for Dell.
“My relationship with Arthur was far different than any other athlete I represented,” Dell said. “This was a special relationship that evolved from managing his business affairs to becoming a special friend”.
Ashe and Dell were inseparable through his championship fortnight at Wimbledon, his Davis Cup triumphs as player and captain, and as he was producing his endearing legacy. A Hard Road To Glory: A History of The African Athlete stands as the unequivocal literary chronicle of the Black Athlete in the United States. Ashe financed the research of the project at a cost of $250,000 but taught Dell an even more valuable lesson after an interview when he was looking for clarity.
He had been quoted in an interview saying that it was more difficult to face the challenges of race in America than his fatal bout with AIDS. It was an awakening for Dell who had been with Ashe as he ascended to places that African American athletes had never been. Only then could Dell begin to understand the struggle Ashe endured to get there.
“What you don’t understand is that being black, which you are not, I have to adjust my behavior or my reaction every single day of my life to the white people around me,” Dell remembers. “Unless you are Black and living in America you don’t understand that not only do you have to be talented, smart, and all the rest, but you have to adjust”.
“That just flabbergasted me.”
The 2009 Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which is underway at Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, is now one of the Top 500 stops on the ATP tour. This year’s field includes three time champion and Wimbledon runner up Andy Roddick and is considered to be the best ever. The prize money has grown to over $1.5 million and this is the only men’s tournament in the world over the next week. As a major tune up for the U.S. Open the field also includes three players ranked in the top five and a total of six ranked in the top 20.