Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marathon on Court 18

John Isner didn’t sign up to be a marathoner. As far as tennis goes, however, he ran one… in fact, he ran a few. On Thursday, June 24, 2010, Isner won his match against Frenchman Nicolas Mahut on the third day of match play (sunset on each of the first two days warranted a suspension of play). Adding together the time spent playing over the course of the three days, the match clocked in at an inconceivable 11 hours, 5 minutes. Needless to say, this match was officially logged as the longest played – ever. In fact, the fifth set alone (which ended up being 70-68 games) was longer than any other tournament match in the history of professional tennis. Although the dysfunctional nature of this match does wonders for the coverage of this year’s Wimbledon, I find it rather special for another reason.

John Isner isn’t as good at tennis as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, and I doubt he ever will be. If you think me rather cruel and cynical about a young adult relatively new to professional tennis, I suspect you would (after some prodding) get the same response from Isner himself. Currently ranked 19th on the Men’s ATP rankings board, Isner is practically a no-name to television audiences. Truthfully, the only real standout qualities he possesses are that he is an American, and that he is, for tennis standards, freakishly tall. Standing alone, Isner’s skills as a tennis player are hardly enough to propel him into the sport’s royalty, or garner consideration from the shortsighted American sports-viewing public.

However, on this day, John Isner is a star. Although he surprised many with his remarkable endurance through match play, he impressed me by what he did when he wasn’t smashing forehand winners. The interviews I saw featuring Isner on court and post-match were fantastic. When probed with questions from reporters on scene (some valid, others absurd), Isner demonstrated a mixture of timidity and poise. This combination, I feel, is extremely appropriate for a young man relatively unacquainted with such attention. A week ago, not even Isner’s 6’9” build could be seen behind the daunting shadows of men like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Today, the spotlight was on Isner, and he flourished under the circumstance. He responded to questions in a surprisingly candid manner. He was refreshingly honest, and demonstrated a sincerely humorous bewilderment for the situation in which found himself.

The question being asked to and by sports media talking heads today is whether or not this tennis match, though memorable, should be considered “good” tennis. My personal response to this question is quite similar to that of Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning Star News. This match was much better for the game of tennis than it was great tennis play. Towards the end of day 2 (a phrase which still seems strange when discussing tennis), neither of the two men could hardly stand, let alone provide the type of tennis play ordinarily necessary to keep viewers tuned in. If you ask me, the length of play was the only element that sparked any interest. The notion that this historic match wasn’t the best tennis ever played in no way takes away from its grandeur. Frankly, I consider witnessing events like this to be one of the very finest and exciting things in sports, especially as a fan.

I heard it said today that this match shall be remembered for its length, and nothing more. In all honesty, a statement such as “Remember that match that went for like 11 hours? Who played that, again?” doesn’t seem far-fetched. Today, however, I like to think that this match did something greater than put the sport of tennis on the map for a day or two. I like to think that this tennis match gave two respectful, eloquent young men the chances to demonstrate their gracious attitudes for large audiences. I like to think that sports players and fans alike can look at this match and derive a lesson in sportsmanship and goodwill. I like to think that a 6’9” tennis player was transformed into a role model, who happens to swing a racket.

© 2010 Brent Bracamontes

Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory: Keeping the Laughs Alive

Rob Dyrdek made his mark on the mainstream media world when he teamed up with Christopher “Big Black” Boykin in MTV’s hit series, “Rob & Big.” The show was a hit, popularized by the charisma of its two main characters, their relationship dynamic, and of course, Dyrdek’s financial situation, which allowed the duo to explore a fantasy-like reality which the audience was made a part of. After three full seasons on the air, “Rob & Big” came to an end. Questions have risen about the true nature of the show’s demise, specifically regarding the estrangement of its two main characters. Rumors circulated about growing tension between the two leads, while others focused on Boykin’s aspirations of fatherhood over a life of “makin’ it rain.” Regardless of the reason for the show’s expiry, television lost one of its most original and entertaining shows.

For a genuine fan of the show, accepting the end of “Rob & Big” was a difficult task. I look back fondly on times watching original episodes, and being amazed at how thoroughly entertained I was. Even after days of attempting to upkeep a sense of “media snobbery,” “Rob & Big” always made me remember that some things are just plain funny. When I got word that Rob Dyrdek was coming back to commercial television with a new show, I was slightly skeptical. I made the mistake most people made in their criticisms of a spin-off, asserting that the relationship between Dyrdek and Boykin was the element that gave the show its true success. When the trailers for “Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory” finally hit the airwaves, faithful viewers got a sneak peak into the true entertainment genius that is Rob Dyrdek. Promotions for “Fantasy Factory” showed Dyrdek being catapulted into a pit of foam, maneuvering around his “office space” in a car reminiscent of Speed Racer’s, and simply maintaining the persona he established in “Rob & Big”: an enthusiast of fun.

In my own mind, the trailer for “Fantasy Factory” affirmed the notion that Rob Dyrdek is a mastermind. It seems that while the relationship between Boykin and Dyrdek was showcased in the earlier series, Dyrdek’s wacky and entertaining inceptions were the heart and soul of our viewing fun. Looking back on three great seasons of “Rob & Big,” one can see what the heart and soul of the series was. The amusing and extravagant crusades the two main characters went on were almost exclusively drawn up by Dyrdek (at least portrayed that way in the series). This is not to downgrade the impact that Boykin had on the show (he did, after all, provide me with one of the biggest laughs of my life when he brought the mini-horse trailer back to the house adorned with one of the greatest murals I have ever seen), but to simply accept the fact that a series starring Dyrdek without Boykin could still work.

The first two episodes of “Fantasy Factory” lived up to the anticipation brought forth by its trailers. The stunts are intact, the insanity runs rampant, and the cast of quirky characters, combined with an excellent array of guests make this show a gem after just two episodes on the air. Early notions (be myself as well) hinted at the possibility that Dyrdek would be unable to carry on a successful show by himself without his oversized companion. However, exposure to “Fantasy Factory” has led me to view the relationship between Rob and Big much like I do Mario and Luigi. While we will always have fond memories of the two working together, we can expect equally great things from one of them by himself… adorned with his trademark hat(s).

Dyrdek’s unwavering boyhood desire for fun and excitement is infectious. I am never inspired to live my life to the fullest than when I watch Rob Dyrdek “at work.” Regardless of age, race, creed, socioeconomic stratus, etc., I urge everyone to sit in front of their television screens for an episode of “Fantasy Factory.”

(c) 2010 Brent Bracamontes

LT: Linebacker's Terror & Local Treasure

LaDainian Tomlinson is a Charger. He has been a Charger since his draft into the NFL eight years ago, and will (hopefully) sport a bolt-adorned helmet until he hangs up his jersey for good.

The past few weeks have been arduous. Speculation over Tomlinson’s status with the team roared as fans waited in dreaded anticipation for word. The franchise tag on Darren Sproles didn’t help our optimism for Tomlinson’s future, but hope was never lost. I have written previously that Sproles is not an “every down back,” and I assert that same claim here. Now that LT is back in a Chargers uniform, however, my optimism for the team’s immediate potential has skyrocketed.

My area of focus here is not so much on LT as a utility for victory, but as a man with a family, staying home. LaDainian Tomlinson is a quiet man. While his on-field performances roar, his civilian character is subdued. LT is never out in the clubs making a scene, and has never had his off-the-field reputation questioned. In a sports world consumed by the likes of Terrell Owens and Manny Ramirez, LaDainian Tomlinson is one whom we can all look towards as a true role model for ourselves and for our children. While Owens continues his cancerous reign on the teams for which he plays, Tomlinson is a cultural antibody. His hard work and dedication on the field have made him a first-round hall-of-famer, and his contributions to the city of San Diego are quiet endurances of grace and compassion. The city of San Diego owes a lot to the boy from Texas, and even more to the man from Qualcomm Stadium.

The Chargers have been labeled recently as being an arrogant team. When speculation arose about Drew Brees wanting LT to join him in New Orleans, opinionated sports columnists like Michael Wilbon (one of my favorite personalities) urged Tomlinson to go where he was wanted, in hopes of one day coming back to San Diego to show the Chargers all that he had left. Fortunately for the Chargers organization and the city of San Diego, Tomlinson announced his return to the team earlier this week. Regardless of how close LT really was to leaving San Diego, the two sides have now reached an agreement that will allow Tomlinson to spend his remaining seasons in a Chargers uniform. With this move, Dean Spanos and the Chargers organization made it clear that they want LT in a Bolt uniform. Much more significant, however, is what this deal means on the side of Tomlinson. It shows that amongst all other things, professional and lucrative, LaDainian Tomlinson wants to be a Charger, and wants to be in San Diego. Sir, your wish is our command.

One must keep in mind that the NFL is a business. Men can contribute heroically to their teams and to their communities, and still be cut the next day. Luckily for us, the Chargers and LaDainian Tomlinson have recognized the magic of their unity, and have acted on visions of a great future. As players have come and gone, I have always stood by the San Diego Chargers. I told a friend last week that I would trade LT for a Superbowl victory. Today I am ashamed of that statement, and believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that LaDainian Tomlinson means more to the Chargers and the city of San Diego than a Superbowl ever will.

(c) 2010 Brent Bracamontes