The Guy, or His Act, Is Great

A Walt Disney children's magazine recently asked me to do a story on Andre Agassi. Children really like Andre. He plays rock-'n'-roll tennis. He wears long hair, radical clothes, a stubbly beard like George Michael's (the singer, not that "Sports Machine" guy) and an earring. Andre is cooler than cool.

Andre doesn't seem to do as well, however, with adults. Certain adults believe Andre behaves like a child. They don't care for his attire, for his attitude, for his ads, for anything about the guy. They seem to like it when he loses.

Well, Andre is playing Wimbledon for the second time, beginning today. He will wear white, which is ordained. He will wear, if permissible, his earring, which happens to be a three-looped religious ornament representing the Holy Trinity. He might even shave, the way he did before playing in the championship match of last year's U.S. Open.

And I know at least one American will be pulling for him to win Wimbledon.

Me.

Unless Agassi was putting on an act--and if he was, all I can say is, Robert De Niro is now only our second-greatest actor--this is one of the nicest guys I've met in sports.

I realize that I was there for a kids' magazine, which is not exactly investigative journalism. And I realize that Andre has done certain things on a tennis court that would make John McEnroe blush. But he was hardly the punk people have made him out to be--nor, for that matter, is McEnroe.

Both of them are reforming. It has taken the older player quite a bit longer, and you never know when Mt. McEnroe will spit up lava again. But being young and rebellious is second-nature to some people. Not everybody develops the premature maturity of Pete Sampras or Michael Chang.

When Agassi was asked about doing an interview, his response was somewhat beguiling. He asked if, rather than talking on the phone, I could come see him in Las Vegas.

My reflexive reaction was: pampered brat. Come to me and I'll grant you an audience. But no, no, no, said my friend the magazine editor. Andre would just like to meet you face to face. Andre says you can have all the time you need. Andre even says he will pick you up at the airport.

Sure he will, I said.

At the airport, as I got off the plane and Andre Agassi asked me if I had a bag he could help carry, I began to give him the benefit of the doubt. In his car, when he was as charming as could be to the ticket-taker, I gave him a second look. In a Vegas coffee shop, when he made every autograph-seeker feel like a friend instead of an intruder, I gave him a third look.

OK, so I'm not totally stupid (a sportswriting prerequisite). I know that he knows that I'm taking and making notes. Nevertheless, as I said before, if this was an act, this guy belongs on Broadway. Andre deserves a Tony.

Sorry, Agassi-bashers, but I liked him tremendously.

I suppose my favorite part was when I broached the subject of visiting Andre's house, picturing in my mind a swimming pool the size of Lake Mead. Andre said he would be glad to show me where he lived but he was still living with his parents and sleeping on their couch.

Pampered brat. Yeah, right.

Anyhow, I won't tell you any more, because the rest will be in Disney Adventures magazine. (Next time, I'm hoping to interview that giant mouse of theirs, or the duck with the laryngitis.)

But, in all fairness, I should say that I just read a story in Esquire by an excellent writer, Mike Lupica, whose instincts I trust, who mentions recent one-on-ones Andre Agassi has had with sportswriters in which they came away favorably impressed. Mike thinks it's an act. He handed out awards for the most annoying people in sports and didn't give one to Andre; he named the award after Andre.

My belief remains that Andre has been misjudged. Or, at least, prejudged.

I know a newspaper editor who doesn't much care for Agassi who assigned a writer to go profile Agassi. I don't think this editor was terribly pleased when the writer turned in a story profiling Agassi as polite and misunderstood.

Sunday morning, I was listening to a talk show on XTRA radio in San Diego hosted by Jim Rome, another person whose instincts I trust. Jim made it clear in no uncertain terms that he thought Andre Agassi was sadly lacking heart, that it was why he usually lost important matches.

I don't know. What do I know?

I know I like Andre Agassi, that's what I know. He probably won't win Wimbledon, but maybe he will. What do I know? I'm with you, Andre. Don't make me regret it, man.

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