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About Stan Smith, it has been said by many people in the cognoscenti that no one has had a longer run of enduring significance in the tennis world than this estimable individual with the winning blend of quiet confidence, ineffable dignity and unshakable integrity. An extraordinary American champion who towered above his rivals at 6’4”, he rose to prominence steadily and persuasively. In a stirring five-year span, Smith took the U.S. National Championships outside Boston in 1969, collected the Inaugural Masters [now known as the ATP Finals] title in Tokyo the following year, won the US Open in 1971, was No. 1 in the world and triumphed at Wimbledon in 1972, and captured the prestigious WCT Finals crown at Dallas in 1973. On his best days, he beat the finest players of his era, claiming Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Roy Emerson and Ilie Nastase among his victims. At his zenith, Smith was mightily imposing on a tennis court.

Moreover, Smith was an American Davis Cup stalwart, capturing 35 of 43 matches altogether in singles and doubles, spearheading his country almost single-handedly past the heavily favored Romanians in the 1972 final at Bucharest. On the clay courts of Bucharest, he struck down US Open champion Nastase and Ion Tiriac in singles and took the doubles alongside Erik Van Dillen in arguably the grittiest and greatest performance ever given by an American Davis Cup competitor. Although Smith remained one of the game’s great doubles players, claiming his last major alongside old partner Bob Lutz at the 1980 US Open, he was no longer in the upper regions of the sport in singles after 1974, when he turned 28. An elbow injury left Smith a shell of his former self, although he gallantly soldiered on.

Reflecting on his career with me a few weeks ago, Smith said, “I had that elbow injury for about two years and when I came back from that I was never quite the same. But that was a special period for me when I won my biggest titles. When I was 16 I had four big goals—to be a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team; to be the No. 1 American; to win Wimbledon; and to be No. 1 in the world. Everything I did was to try to realize all of those goals. I did all of those things. I am very proud of that.”

Smith famously helped lead the U.S. to a stunning Davis Cup win over Romania in 1972 (Getty Images).

Smith famously helped lead the U.S. to a stunning Davis Cup win over Romania in 1972 (Getty Images).

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As prodigiously as Smith achieved on the court, he has probably surpassed those athletic feats away from the arena. To be sure, he dabbled in some senior events which were mere sidelights in his life for many years. He jovially recalls receiving a letter from Wimbledon when he was 60. “They said come to the tournament but don’t bring your racquets.”

But he had long understood that he had much to offer the game by pursuing other avenues in it. He spent twelve years working in high posts for the USTA in their Player Development program from 1986-98, serving as Director of Coaching from 1986-94.

That set the stage for Smith to pursue other endeavors including “Stan Smith Events”, which he started about 25 years ago; the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in his home state of South Carolina at Sea Pines which opened in 2002; his remarkable relationship for the past half century with Adidas; and last, but clearly not least, his Presidency of the International Tennis Hall of Fame since 2011.

With “Stan Smith Events”, he accompanies those who want to share watching major sporting events with a man of his sporting stature. They attend the Olympic Games, British Open golf and the four tennis majors and benefit from the wisdom of Smith, who has grown increasingly comfortable in that role.

Donald Dell has represented Smith professionally since 1970 “on a handshake” after serving as Stan’s Davis Cup captain in 1968 and 1969. He says, “With Stan Smith Events, he has all of these people with him at the Slams and a lot of them are CEO’s of major companies. He talks to them every day about the matches and gets to know them well. That is why they come—to listen to what Stan has to say. Stan has developed a great sense of humor over the years and has become a great after dinner speaker. Stan Smith Events has been excellent for him.”

When I was 16 I had four big goals—to be a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team; to be the No. 1 American; to win Wimbledon; and to be No. 1 in the world. Everything I did was to try to realize all of those goals. I did all of those things. I am very proud of that. Stan Smith

The same can be said for the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy, which is set up to serve 60 young players of varying ages. Even now, whenever he is home, Smith spends a couple of hours a day on the courts with the young players, loving every minute of it. “I always wanted to be involved with an academy,” he says. “It is great fun and very fulfilling for me.”

And yet, perhaps nothing on the Smith agenda has been more significant in his professional life than his enduring association with Adidas. It is an alliance unlike almost any other in the world of sports, stretching back to the 1970’s, structured to last forever, leading Smith to write a book in 2019 called “Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe.”

About a decade ago, it appeared that the Stan Smith shoe might fade away, but that was not the case. The company took it off the market for a few years but then there was a relaunch and Dell negotiated a new deal.

Dell explains, “The Stan Smith shoe had been on the market since 1974-75. In 2018 that shoe was easily the No. 1 seller of all Adidas shoes in the company. They came to me and said they wanted to make this a contract for life so the Stan Smith shoe is now indeed a lifetime contract. Stan has always been incredibly helpful. If Adidas wants Stan to make an appearance in New York at 10AM on a Friday, he is there at 9AM. There is just no finer athlete that I have ever met in quality of person than Stan Smith.”

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The Stan Smith shoe has become an indelible part of fashion and pop culture (Getty Images).

The Stan Smith shoe has become an indelible part of fashion and pop culture (Getty Images).

For his part, Smith is delighted by his longstanding status with Adidas, who just released a new Stan Smith green golf shoe during The Masters golf event in April. Smith says, “This Adidas relationship has been an unbelievable chain of events. I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right product. Even when they took it off the market for two years they still brought it back. Since then it has been doing incredibly well. The shoe has embraced every segment of the population around the world—the hip-hop, the preppies, the old, the new, the kids, older folks, men and women. For thirty years mine has been a fashion shoe. I don’t even recommend it for people who play serious tennis.”

Smith pauses briefly before adding, “I told the Wall Street Journal once that probably 95% of the people in the world have no idea who I am. My wife Margie chimed in and said, ‘99% of the people in the world have no idea who you are!’ And that’s why I wrote my book—so they would understand the legacy of the shoe.”

Legacy is precisely why Smith happily accepted the offer to become the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame back in 2011. “It’s about wanting to give back to the game, “he explains. “That the main reason I wanted to do it.”

Smith has been invaluable in helping the Hall of Fame with sponsorships and other matters, but he also has a clearly defined philosophy, believing that that above all else it is the integrity of the Hall that must be his prime objective.

“My goal was to make it more international because it has been seen by some as such an American establishment,” he asserts. “It is very important for the Hall of Fame to have full credibility with the world of tennis. We have tried to raise the bar and that’s what we are doing. We are in an interesting situation now with superstars like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena and Venus. Until they retire that leaves a vacuum for that level of stardom, so this is an important time for us. I really enjoy working with [CEO] Todd Martin. He is doing a great job.”

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Dell—a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee—has closely followed the Smith-Martin relationship. He says, “They get along very well. Stan was the perfect fit for the Presidency. He has a great rapport with Todd. Stan is one of the few people who if he said to Todd, ‘I don’t think you should do that’, there is a good chance Todd might not do it. They are an entry which really benefits the Hall of Fame.”

Unquestionably the Hall of Fame Presidency is one of Smith’s chief priorities amidst a full plate of professional endeavors. He has a lot to juggle on his menu, but, as Dell asserts, “Stan is great at balancing his time. He knows his calendar now for the next six months. He is incredibly well organized.”

That is a necessity, because nothing means more to Stan Smith than finding quality time to spend with his family. As the 74-year-old explains, “My family is the most important thing to me by far. I have four kids and 16 grandchildren. Everything else is secondary to me and my wife, Margie. They are the center of my life.”

It has been a remarkably productive life, and Smith has somehow remained immersed in a wide range of activities which have kept him young and made him enduringly relevant at the top of the tennis universe. He keeps moving beyond himself as a human being and a leader, using his good name to boost the sport in countless ways.

Dell says, “If you really amalgamate everything Stan is doing now and has done in the past, if you look at what he represents and put it all together into one big package, he is probably the No. 1 person in the world of tennis. Rod Laver is a great player and a great guy and Roger Federer is getting closer and closer, but Stan Smith has been outstanding for tennis ever since he won Wimbledon. Stan is someone you can rely on and the personification of what I call Oldies are Goodies. Yet he just keeps moving forward.”

“I don’t think I could ever sit still,” Smith points out. “I always remember how my friend Arthur Ashe got the most out of his life and was constantly working on new projects. I am very committed to everything I am doing now with the various projects, but also to my family. I will keep giving my two cents as to what is important in life and will continue being active. I know what matters to me.”