I don't remember which major it was, but it had to have been the first I watched as a tennis fan. During a break, this guy whose outfit hurt my eyes was introduced as a commentator. I'm thinking: "OK, what could this weirdo have to say?" Then he opened his mouth and fluent tennis knowledge came out of it. Humor and a love of the game came out of it.
When someone such as Bud Collins becomes an ambassador for a game like tennis, it might be difficult for the longtime fan to understand the effect. Tennis is not baseball or football. Everyone does not love tennis. When new tennis fans come along and turn on the TV and Collins waxes about tennis history in an accessible and non-snobby way that even I can understand, that's important to growing the game.
Collins died on Friday and of course, those who worked with him paid tribute. Having only watched him on television, I have no personal memories like that. I'm only grateful that when I was starting to watch the game, I had Collins to tell me why Martina Hingis' next major victory would be historic, or whether the Sisters Sledgehammer (otherwise known as Venus and Serena Williams) had potential to make and break records.
In reading Collins' obit, it would seem his passion for the game actually cost him broadcasting duties at NBC back in the day. He lost the play-by-play job for "Breakfast at Wimbledon" because he was "overwhelming," according to the executive producer back in 1983. That guy said he thought less was more. Some people would have taken that as a sign to rein in the passion a little bit, to wear more beige and white, to please his bosses.
Collins? Well, Collins remained Collins, and became an ambassador for the game to millions of fans.