There are few people you encounter in life that you feel are both your buddy and larger than life at the same time. Bud Collins was one of those people. I remember, as an eight year old, curling up on the coach on Sunday mornings with the Boston Globe. In between watching cartoons, I would read the Globe sports section. I would always turn the pages quickly to get to my favorite columnists. Bud Collins was first in line. The way he wrote, the enthusiasm he exhibited that made the images he described come to life was so unique. No one wrote like Bud then and no one does now. I couldn’t get enough. His articles and the real life characters he wrote about always seemed to jump from the page like the final scene in a suspenseful novel.
I wondered what it would be like to meet Bud Collins one day. The de facto Tennis Commissioner. The man who made a second round Tennis match seem like the Super Bowl. The wildly entertaining writer that wasn’t afraid to write in a poetic, sometimes run on sentence manner that only he could pull off effectively. What would he be like in person? Would the man I read every Sunday in the Boston Globe match how he was face to face? Eleven years later I had my answer.
At the 1999 US Open I sat preparing to co-host another episode of “One on One” on WFUV radio. This was not just another Saturday show however. I was at the US Open in Flushing Meadows and we were hosting a live show where the man himself, Bud Collins would join us for a segment. All those Sunday mornings reading Bud’s vivid descriptions of stories like Andre Agassi’s rise, fall and rise again to Tennis immortality, contrasted with the mild mannered yet cutthroat Pete Sampras. Bud would set up this rivalry in spectacular ways that got me even more enthused for their next match.
Some people don’t think Tennis is exciting. I suggest those people read some Bud Collins articles and then tell me Tennis isn’t exciting. So here I was, 19 years old at the US Open, headset on, nervous, ready to meet and interview the legend himself. As soon as I saw the loud colored shirt, the wide smile and even bigger eyes, I knew this would be an interview I would always remember.
Bud wasn’t the tallest guy, but his presence, from the bright outfit to the staccato like tones, invoked a presence that demanded not only respect, but for you to match his enthusiasm level. He told stories about Roy Emerson and curses, he gave away US open tickets, he somehow knew a tale of my last name! How was this possible? My last name is pretty unique: Zook. Most people focus on Darwin and make a comment about evolution or survival of the fittest. Not Bud. He went for the Zook angle of course…always different, always colorful in his story. Once he heard Zook and I was from Boston, he went into telling a narrative. I didn’t know whether to believe or not at the time about “The Boston Zooks.” Of course it was true and Bud knew every detail. All of a sudden, the guy I read at eight years old on my couch had become my buddy and was telling me exciting stories about my name.
The saying goes there are some people that know a little bit about a lot of different things. Bud on the other hand knew a lot about a lot of different things. He was truly one of a kind. He also would probably give me a quick look of disapproval with palms in the air, for the use of that cliché. Bud Collins was anything but a cliché. His writing, his dress, his stories. He carved his own niche.
Bud Collins through his writing, words and delivery made every story he wrote seem like a fairy tale, carefully woven together in an almost dream like sequence. In today’s world of social media and everyone in search of the next “hot take” in sports, with Bud it was never forced. He didn’t have to force anything because his wit and energy came naturally.
As I sat listening to the story of the curse of Roy Emerson and the snakes that prevented a record being broken at the Australian Open, how he got the pink patterned shirt he was wearing, or the legend of the Boston Zooks, I knew right then that if I was going to be in sports broadcasting, I wanted to make sure I brought my energy the way he did all the time. Bud loved his life, loved Tennis and loved writing. He was a storyteller, a performer and always authentic and true to who he was.
He was larger than life. He was everyone’s Bud. He will be sorely missed.
To hear Bud Collins first interview on WFUV in 1999, click on the link below. You can also hear a portion of his second interview at the end, where he makes an apology for a comment he made in his first interview.