Althea Gibson had an illustrious career by any metric. A five-time Grand Slam singles and doubles winner, Gibson had another, more important distinction: She was the first black player to win a Grand Slam, netting her first win in 1956's French Open. She also became the first black player to compete in the world tour in 1950 -- 11 years before Arthur Ashe.
Gibson was dominant in her time in the sport, winning back-to-back titles at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1957 and 1958. After a unanimous vote, the United States Tennis Association will cement Gibson's legacy by erecting a statue for her at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens,
The vote came after a presentation from King herself, who asked the USTA board to honor "the Jackie Robinson of tennis." Gibson has inspired many athletes after her, and Serena Williams -- perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time -- honored her as a trailblazer for women of color in 2016.
Gibson retired in 1958 at the top of her game due to the injustices around her. She felt that she wasn't getting the same opportunities as her white counterparts. Gibson was immensely talented in things outside of tennis. She was a vocalist, a saxophonist, an actress, a sports broadcaster and an author. She also broke the color barrier in the LPGA tour in 1964, and although she didn't achieve the same success as her tennis career, she faced many of the same challenges.
King, of course, was thrilled with the news.
Althea Gibson is finally getting her statue. The 1st African-American to win a Grand Slam & a two-time U.S. National Champion, Althea was a tremendous influence on my life & all those who followed in her trailblazing footsteps. #champion #BlackHistoryMonth https://t.co/eW6LTCf9gZ— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) February 27, 2018
Gibson currently has a statue in Newark near the parks where she ran a clinic for young players. She was the New Jersey athletic commissioner for a year, the first woman in that role, but she retired due to lack of autonomy, among other reasons.
"I said: 'She's our Jackie Robinson of tennis and she needs to be appreciated for it, and she's not,'" King said, via The Undefeated. "I wanted something there that was permanent. I didn't want just a one-day highlight."
King said her presentation didn't make the difference. It was just a complement to letters from 50 tennis fans in Wilmington, North Carolina to USTA president Katrina Adams. Adams said she had wanted to honor Gibson in the past as well.
"This is something that I have wanted for a while, something that I have floated within my office, as to getting something named after Althea," Adams said, per The Undefetaed. "Recognizing for me as an African-American woman and recognizing what Althea stood for and understanding that she truly broke the color barrier for tennis — a lot of people think it's Arthur [Ashe], but it was Althea 11 years before him."
There aren't any details about the artist, budget, or timeline, but the day is for celebrating the fact that Gibson will be honored. An athlete that achieved in every area of her life, Gibson has inspired people in more than tennis. Her statue can serve as a reminder of that.