Ashe documentary, like the man himself, is a gem


September 27, 1994|By MILTON KENT

In its recent survey of the 40 most important sports figures of the past 40 years, Sports Illustrated placed Arthur Ashe 27th, while leaving off such luminaries as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Red Auerbach.

The truth, confirmed by a spectacular documentary "Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World," that debuts tonight at 10 on HBO, is that Ashe, one of the more important figures in all of American society over the past four decades, should have been ranked far higher.

For virtually all who came in contact with him, Ashe -- who died Feb. 6, 1993, of complications related to the AIDS virus, which he contracted during a 1983 blood transfusion -- personified intelligence, style, dignity and grace, on the court and off.

But for all his outward civility and humility, Ashe was a man of deep conviction and passion. The 60-minute film, lovingly directed and produced by Julie Anderson, formerly of ABC and ESPN, chronicles in exquisite detail his fights against apartheid and for the rights of Haitian refugees, as well as his quiet struggles to raise the stature of blacks in American society.

Anderson's direction is complemented by a stirring script from writer Frank Deford, who accompanied Ashe on one of his South African journeys and contributed some Super 8 movies of the trip for the film, which was green-lighted as HBO executives, for whom Ashe worked as a Wimbledon analyst, rode to his funeral in Richmond, Va.

Very little time in "Citizen of the World" is devoted to Ashe's significant tennis accomplishments, which include winning the U.S. Open in 1968, and his upset of Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final.

Instead, Anderson, Deford and narrator Ossie Davis zero in on the life of a peaceful warrior, through the words of his family and friends.

A personal note: A year before his death and two months before his illness was revealed, I had the great pleasure to meet Ashe at a seminar in College Park. We briefly debated the merits of Proposition 48 and he handed me his phone number and fax number, with an invitation to call and continue the debate. I never took him up on the offer, and I've regretted it since.

If you don't have HBO, find someone who does and implore them to tape this life-affirming film, which repeats on Sept. 29, Oct. 1, 4, 9, 14 and 19. Television truly doesn't get much better than this.

Anatomy of a firing

The news of Orioles manager Johnny Oates' firing drifted out just after 7:30 last night, and the two early talkmeisters, WBAL's Josh Lewin and WWLG's Nestor Aparicio, went to work, though WBAL's news team and status as the Orioles' rights-holder gave it the jump over WWLG.

Lewin, who just arrived in Baltimore last Tuesday, immediately scrapped the last half-hour of a football show with occasional host Stan White and pursued the story, landing a brief interview with Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who had just spoken with WBAL news reporter Jack Shaum.

Lewin politely, but firmly questioned Hemond about who actually fired Oates -- the general manager or owner Peter Angelos.

It's interesting that Lewin's immediate suggestion as Oates' replacement, former Oriole Rick Dempsey -- who won the Pacific Coast League title with the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate -- was first suggested last week by WCBM's Stan "The Fan" Charles, whose show airs four hours later than Lewin's or Aparicio's.

Meanwhile, Aparicio was in the middle of an interview with Pam Shriver, who was plugging her tennis exhibition. He didn't find out about the firing until 7:48, about 15 minutes after WBAL.

Aparicio said he confirmed the report, then tried to reach Oates at his Colonial Heights, Va., home, but got no answer.

Aparicio, however, made no attempt to get reaction to the firing, saying later that he had little time to contact players, given that he would be off the air at 8 p.m.

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