Good tennis, like good publicity, requires expert timing. Hit too soon and the ball goes long. Hit too late and it goes into the net. (Not sure, it might be just the opposite; the only thing at which I excelled in tennis was throwing the racket). So it's no surprise the publicists for John McEnroe's autobiography, You Cannot Be Serious, masterfully timed the launch of their campaign to correspond with the start of the famed tennis tournament at Wimbledon. Its staid grass courts and pomp of royalty once provided the perfect contrast to McEnroe's obstreperous behavior. This year's tourney, with its lack of drama and marquee players, is a marvelous inducement for those who are dissatisfied with the modern game to read Mac's book and reminisce that, well, maybe the brilliant brat wasn't so bad after all.
Yes, he was, counters former wife and Hollywood actress Tatum O'Neal. Responding to the "bad mom, drug user allegations McEnroe leveled against her in print, O'Neal returned a wicked cross-court zinger, saying John was himself a drug user, and had a really bad temper to boot. Ugly business from two people who once vowed to love, honor, and call their own lines.
O'Neal's revelations aren't surprising to anyone who ever saw Mac on court, where his offensive antics often brought him to within seconds of being disqualified, or worse yet, throttled by rival Jimmy Connors, who was equally explosive, and much more dangerous.
Unlike McEnroe's annoying but harmless whining, Connors' outbursts lent serious notion to the idea that he was about to drag someone out of his chair and pulverize him. (Maybe that's why I always preferred Jimmy to John. He was the first Xtreme tennis player.)
The dirt really flies in these types of tell-all autobiographies like McEnroe's, buoyed, understandably, by the publishers and publicists.
They know the media is more likely to pick up on the negative stuff. One could say a hundred nice things about someone and only one nasty thing, but there's no doubt which excerpt will get most ink. Do you suppose Mother Teresa had been encouraged to dish the dirt about the Pope in her autobiography?
Why are some people so willing to harm friendships and significant business relationships by airing dirty laundry? Is it a desire to come clean? Or just sell books? It's not always easy to leave the warmth of the spotlight, and a lot of celebrities, especially athletes whose careers are inherently brief, perhaps try to regain some of the fame they once enjoyed by creating controversy. Book publicists do their part by feeding the machine with gossipy tidbits and titillating morsels. Then everyone jumps on the "buzz elevator for a ride straight to the penthouse of The New York Times' bestseller list.
And if You Cannot Be Serious is your cup of strawberries and cream, you'll be sure to enjoy Connors' upcoming autobiography, Yes, I Am Serious and I'm Gonna Kick Your #@%!.