Athletes as rock stars
At exactly the same time that several hundred musicians and music lovers packed The Intersection on Tuesday night to honor local "rock stars" at the WYCE-FM (88.1) Jammie Awards bash, a few thousand folks cheered on stars of a different sort a couple of blocks away at Van Andel Arena. Special game: Bill Przybysz and John McEnroe share a moment at the net following their game during the Ace of Hearts exhibition at Van Andel Arena on Tuesday night. More photos That's where tennis stars John McEnroe, Anna Kournikova, Jim Courier and Jana Novotna were playing -- and entertaining -- folks as part of the Ace of Hearts exhibition, a charity event organized mostly by local tennis pro Bill Przybysz to raise money for the Miracle Match Foundation, which financially helps those seeking bone marrow transplants.
The "sports" angle aside, tennis-great-turned-sportscaster McEnroe and model/tennis player/bombshell Kournikova are arguably the biggest, most recognizable international celebrities to hit town since The Who rolled into Grand Rapids in December. And one of them, at least, is a heckuva a lot better looking than Pete Townshend or Roger Daltrey. Anyway, being a diehard tennis buff -- and recognizing that McEnroe has dabbled in the rock guitar thing on occasion, thus justifying my attendance ... at least in my own mind. I popped into their pre-match press conference at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to see just what they were up to in this winter wasteland of celebrity-starved Grand Rapids. Oh, and to find out what they were listening on their iPods.
After a 40-minute delay in their arrival from Chicago due to our fine Midwest weather, here's a few of their comments: On tennis stars as celebrities: "Actually, not enough of these guys are like rock stars," insisted McEnroe, who claimed tennis needs more colorful characters like past greats Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and Bjorn Borg (who he dubbed "the tennis version of the Beatles" during his heyday, with screaming girls waiting for him after matches). "The amount of money in the sport has made everyone seem more serious."
He did commend the U.S. Open in New York for trying to "add a spark" to the sport by playing loud music before matches and otherwise entertaining crowds. On sports as entertainment: "We go out there and compete, but hopefully we also want to entertain. Jim (Courier) brings his good looks and sense of humor, and me, it's yelling at the umpire." Said Courier: "At the end of the day, we're entertainers." On music: Courier's iPod has been playing Mat Kearney (who opens for John Mayer at Van Andel Arena next week), the Counting Crows and the Gorillaz. Kournikova said she tends to "listen to the same stuff over and over ... older stuff, personal stuff." Novotna said her tastes range from classical to rock to easy listening. "It depends on what mood I'm in."
McEnroe said he's "helped by my kids actually" in listening to a variety of downloaded tunes. He did complain, though, that he didn't get a chance to hear live music in Chicago the night before traveling to West Michigan so he could rest up for his Grand Rapids matches. "Forget Buddy Guy's Legends. I need to get my sleep," he quipped. On playing to raise money for the Miracle Match Foundation and supporting Przybysz, who's battled through acute monocytic leukemia: "I'm proud and honored to be part of this event. I jumped at the opportunity," said Kournikova. Noted Courier: "Bill's story is so compelling. This guy's inspiring and we're happy to be here."
What the event represents is "never giving up," McEnroe offered, "and of course, to come up with a solution." And that's the bottom line: We need more stars like that, willing to use their celebrity status for worthy causes. Przybysz said the foundation wants to raise enough money from this week's event to get 125 people tested so they can find matches on the national bone marrow registry. Let's hope they do.
Comments about anything?Thomas R. Wolf, Jr. <firstname.lastname@example.org>