Like Muhammad Ali, tennis great Arthur Ashe stands as one of those transformative sports figures whose impact off the court — or in Ali’s case, outside the ring — rivals or surpasses his athletic feats.
At the same time, it would be difficult to find two athletic greats who were more different from one another than Ali and Ashe. Aside from the fact they both achieved stardom as African-American sports icons during the turbulent civil rights years of the 1960s, they could not have been more opposite in demeanor and temperament.
In 2016, President Barack Obama made that point when he spoke of Ashe and Ali being the sports figures he most admired, perhaps the most fitting tribute to their contrasting personalities and ability to achieve transformational ends through such different means.
Where Ali was the brash motormouth who seemingly never let a thought go unspoken, Ashe often played the role of soft-spoken, reserved diplomat. Where Ali boasted of his greatness, Ashe was the picture of humility on and off the court. And where Ali plunged headfirst into the great social debates of his day, Ashe was more judicious in picking his spots to speak out while always leading through an example marked by dignity and civility.
It’s all the more surprising, then, that Ashe and Ali were the bookends of an era where black athletes found their voice and and led the charge for social justice on so many fronts.
Here are 24 incredible facts about Ashe that help explain his legacy on and off the court.