If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Bob was Arthur Ashe’s hero. In fact, when Arthur Ashe was 14, he said, “I only want to be good enough to be able to beat Bob Ryland.”
Bob has taught tennis to the Williams sisters, Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby and many others in his career. I recently had lunch in New York City with the living legend and every time is like the first time. What impresses me about Ryland is that even though he lived through segregation, he stays one of the most optimistic people I know.
You think it’s hard to play tournament tennis nowadays?
I remember when Bob told me about a time when he got accepted into a tournament in California because of his high ranking. But once he arrived, and the tournament director saw that he was black, Ryland was told to “Go get some lunch and come back.”
When he returned, the tournament director said that his opponent showed up and Ryland wasn’t here, so he was disqualified. Of course, this was intentional because of the color of his skin.
Ryland also frequently was pulled over by the police for no reason. There were blacks strung up on trees and also dragged down the street when he was a young boy. He lived through hell.
Bob Ryland could easily be bitter and angry at those situations, but he isn’t. According to him, “It is what it is.”
Much of life is not what happens to us, but how we react.
I am proud to say that Bob Ryland is a dear friend, hero and role model. Bob will be 91 years young this June 16th and you can be sure he will be around the Central Park Tennis Courts once the weather warms up.
Many people say, “Be like Mike.” Today, I say, “Be like Bob.”
Thanks for reading.