The Labor Day weekend heat wave in southern California is everything you’ve heard about and more.
Yes, it’s been hotter. But 99+ degrees in the first week of September means your dog is panting on their morning walk about 30 seconds after you exit your front door.
Also, the breeze from the trees feels like inescapable flames of hell in your face, even worse than those perpetrated on the news nightly right now by former POTUS #45.
Hell would truly be either one of these things continuing on much longer, especially the latter.
I spent this weekend, as did so many of us, watching and paying tribute to the GOAT of women’s tennis, and perhaps of all tennis – Serena Williams.
There’s a debate over what the “Greatest Of All Time”in a sport truly means. Are you the greatest because you have the most wins; or can beat anyone who has ever played the sport in an imagined one on one matchup?
Or does being the GOAT also include your effect on the game generally and how your participation upped the ante, opened doors and/or overall changed the sport for the better?
This is the stuff that keeps sportswriters, aficionados and fantasy leagues of all kinds alive and afloat.
In short, it doesn’t interest me.
This is because I, like many gay men of a certain age (Note: Ugh, not all of us – of course, not all of us!!!!), have a complicated relationship with sports.
I wasn’t much good at it, was made fun of for what I lacked, was seldom chosen and, to top it off, it generally had little interest to me. This was not so much because of my skill level or rejection rate but more that from a very young age I recognized sports occupied a huge, oversized (note: in my mind) space in the American psyche.
What was so f’n interesting?
Despite all the intellectual answers I now fully understand, sometimes I still don’t get it.
Yet for some reason tennis was always the exception, especially women’s tennis.
I came to realize this is because a) tennis is generally not considered to be a team sport (Note: Forgive me, doubles players), and b) it’s not violent.
Once you get in the arena, it’s a one-on-one matchup of personal athleticism, psychology, endurance and smarts.
Also, it’s always felt to me that overall, with a few exceptions, as cutthroat as tennis could be it evoked sportsmanship.
Well, whatever is the proper way to put it, I think you know what I mean.
As a kid in Queens, I was initiated into the sport in the 1960s by watching a bespectacled woman on TV named Billie Jean King become an unlikely hero to so many of us who wore glasses and longed to excel in ANYTHING athletic.
Ms. King’s endurance, grace under pressure and sheer skill and power as both player and speaker, impressed me to no end. It felt to me that despite people laughing at her, somehow she was cool enough inside to know how to remain calm, lock out the noise and give the doubters a huge middle finger by doing nothing more than demonstrating her talent center stage.
It didn’t feel like she was showing off or proving anything. It was simply taking the stage when it was her turn and doing the best that she could. Which was, well, great.
There have been many players since who have caught my fancy but none like Serena Williams. To witness her final match at almost 41 years of age at the US Open in round three on Friday night was to understand what it means to be a champion.
You don’t have to be a tennis fan to watch ONE GAME go on for 15 minutes and wonder, how is she doing this, why is she doing this and gee, maybe she CAN indeed do this, forever.
I get that fans of sports teams might feel the same way and that is their right. But watching Serena work I kept thinking: how does she keep the physical and mental going after all these decades (Note: Over 27 years).
Not to mention, how did she ever manage to take one of the whitest and most sexist sports in the world and lead its transformation into a multi-cultural sociological international happening every time she steps on the court?
Well, there are a lot better writers than me who can talk about her final appearance in my hometown of Flushing, Queens, site of the US Open, from a sports perspective, a tennis perspective and a feminist perspective. They include:
But what I can tell you is that this level of skill, determination, grit and total, unadulterated dedication to putting everything one has into something one clearly loves doing despite the odds of succeeding, is so rare in today’s world that the very attempt would seem enough to make that special someone at the very least GOAT of the day.
Of course, it’s not.
Because the essence of Serena and the few of any discipline of any kind at her level, means that they put all of their GOAT-ness on the table each and every time they play or exercise their talents.
Some days are better than others, some matches are losers and sometimes their lives suck just as much as ours do, perhaps even more. (Note: Hard to believe, but my limited interactions with several of these uber dedicated tell me this is true).
This kind of transformational person has a way of setting it aside and showing us, yeah, it can be done if I dream it, so watch me and I WILL prove it to you.
No one gets there every time. But even in her final match, which she lost, Serena hit so many mesmerizing winners, so many times, against so many odds, you couldn’t help but feel like she was victorious.
That’s because ultimately she was. In every game she played, regardless of the score.
You can watch the up and down highlights of that final match here: