(Bloomberg) -- The anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks is melancholy, so Howard Lutnick tries to focus on positive things.
Monday morning brought Robert de Niro into the office to make a few trades and raise money for the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, started after the firm lost 658 employees in the attacks, including Lutnick’s brother. Global staff at Cantor and BGC Partners waive their pay for the Charity Day that last year raised $12 million. Part of Monday’s proceeds will support families affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Another ritual this time of year is the benefit for the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum. This year’s event on Sept. 6, with John Oliver and Cyndi Lauper, raised about $3 million for the institution, built on the site of the Twin Towers.
And on Saturday, Lutnick found some distraction in the world of tennis, attending the women’s final in Flushing as a guest of the United States Tennis Association. He had received an award from Stan Smith, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion with his name on that popular Adidas sneaker.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association award named for longtime Princeton coach David Benjamin was presented during a board meeting of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, run by its chairman, John Arnhold, and attended by Monica Seles and Alan Mnuchin. Smith recognized Lutnick for his rebuilding of Cantor and invited him to reflect on his days playing varsity tennis in college.
"I had hair! Oh, I had hair!" Lutnick cried as he looked at a Haverford College team photograph on display at the ceremony at the Grand Hyatt, his dark mop shining against his tennis whites.
It turns out that Lutnick’s tennis career, like his one on Wall Street, was marked by coping with loss.
Lutnick’s mom introduced him to tennis when he was 12. He took to it instantly, and spent high school practicing four hours every day at a local tennis academy. During his senior year, his mom died.
Then, during the first week of freshman year at Haverford, his father died, sending him home for five weeks. When he returned, behind on friend-making and acclimatizing, it was the tennis team that pulled him through. He was captain during his junior and senior years.
"They were with me," Lutnick said. "I wasn’t alone. What they did for me was fundamental to the positive college experience I had, which allowed me to have a positive life. I surely didn’t understand it then, but I do now."
Playing tennis was good for him, too. "I had to go back into the zone," Lutnick said. "I would blast AC/DC, and walk out on to the tennis court, and try to hit the ball hard."
Lutnick never had expectations of playing professionally after college, like Stan Smith. The highlight of his tennis career came when he was 16 and lost to Anders Jarryd in a tournament.
"My father had a meeting with me that night," Lutnick said. "He was a professor. My mom was also a college teacher. Athletics weren’t really in the cards in my family -- books, not body. And he said, ‘Maybe I’ve not given you the credit you deserve, so if you want to, you can drop out of high school, we’ll send you to this tennis thing.’ Really, it was adorable. I said to him, ‘Listen Dad, I’m not even the best player at my tennis club.’"
Lutnick still plays twice a week with a pro on an indoor court near the United Nations. "Basically, it’s more boot camp, so when he’s picking up the tennis balls, I do push ups, sit ups and jump rope. My objective is to stay a fit guy."