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Charlie Ward to Show Tennis Skills to Honor Arthur Ashe

August 27, 1994 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ New York Knicks first-round draft pick Charlie Ward gets a chance to stare down Detroit’s Joe Dumars on the hardcourts Sunday.

But in this contest, the net will be at midcourt and no trash talking will be allowed. Well, maybe just a little, especially if Dumars misses a slam or Ward sails a lob too deep.

Both athletes will show off their tennis skills at the third annual Arthur Ashe AIDS Tennis Challenge at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.

Dumars, who recently captained the 1994 Dream Team to the gold medal at the World Championships, appears to have the advantage on this surface.

″Tennis has always been a love of mine,″ he said. ″I played off and on growing up and now play every day that I can.″

Ward, the Heisman Trophy winner who led Florida State to the national title in 1993, has picked up a racquet once in the last two weeks between conditioning workouts and speaking engagements. But Ward thinks he’ll hold his own in the celebrity doubles event that pairs him with John McEnroe. Dumars will have help from Vitas Gerulaitis.

″My tennis coach in high school wanted me to play, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have time,″ said Ward, who played baseball and ran track. ″Tennis is not my sport, and I’m just out there to have fun. I saw it last year and they had a pretty good time.″

Bill Cosby and Alan King will emcee the televised event, which includes a Pro-Shootout featuring John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Yannick Noah, Boris Becker, Zina Garrison Jackson, Conchita Martinez, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Tracy Austin.

Ward may be light-hearted on the tennis court, but he is serious about his shot at joining the Knicks roster at the guard position. He earned MVP honors after scoring 24 points in the championship game at the NBA summer rookie league in White Plains, N.Y. He averaged 12.5 points and led the Knicks with 35 assists during the eight-day camp that featured rookies, free agents and selected players.

Although shooting is supposedly his weakness, Ward made five 3-pointers against Washington and two against Milwaukee, including the game-winner with one second left.

″I’ve learned a lot about making adjustments and playing in the NBA,″ Ward said. ″I’m working on shooting and overall play and learning the system. I picked up a lot of things about the attitude (the Knicks) present.″

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Ward is living with his parents in Thomasville, Ga., and commuting to Tallahassee to lift weights, shoot and run three hours a day at Florida State. He expects to continue his workouts between speaking and autograph engagements. Last Tuesday, he joined Sam Cassell and Moses Malone to speak to Baltimore area youths about setting goals.

He chose the Arthur Ashe AIDS Tennis Challenge because of his respect for Ashe as a man and an athlete.

″It’s a good opportunity to be part of something positive,″ Ward said. ″From what I hear, Ashe was a genuine person and a very nice individual. He played hard and was a very effective tennis player. He broke the barrier for blacks in tennis, and (Althea Gibson) did also. When the community gives to you, you just have to give back to the community.″

The event will benefit the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. The foundation, established in 1992, has raised more than $4 million and distributed more than 30 grants to AIDS organizations worldwide.

″AIDS is a big issue for a lot of people,″ Ward said. ″It’s good to see people stand up for AIDS victims who contract the disease through whatever means.″

Another part of Ward’s payback to his community is on display in his hometown: The Heisman Trophy is at the local library.