For two days, I was a baller.
The well, that's about it. But it was cool in that "I just found $2 on the ground sort of way" -- you can't really do anything with it, but you still feel a rush.
Anyway, here's what happened. I was in Stockholm working on a tennis story for ESPN the Magazine. The hotel I was staying in was the same hotel all of the players for the Stockholm Open were staying in. That I knew. What I didn't know was that Brazil's national soccer team -- which was on a promotional tour -- was also at the hotel. In the States, you can't get more of a nonevent than exhibition soccer and a lower-tier tennis tournament. But in other places, say, the rest of the world, it was like Beatlemania.
Now I don't know how much you know about Stockholm, but there's not a lot of people of color walking around, and I'm a tall cup of decaf mocha with dreadlocks. See where I'm going with this?
The first day I walked out of the hotel, I was met by a slew of screaming fans begging for autographs and taking pictures with camera phones. I tried telling them I was a nobody, but they couldn't hear me over the cheers and applause. I didn't want to just shake my head because then they would assume I was some arrogant athlete who didn't appreciate his fans.
So I ran.
Reggie Bush couldn't have gotten into that cab faster than me.
The really weird thing was I didn't hear the crowd saying a specific name. It was just random cheers for essentially being black. I mean, they had no idea who I was because, well, I am not famous. But I was a tall, dark, guy with funky hair coming out of the same hotel where world-class athletes were staying. I had to be somebody, right?
And it wasn't just the fans camped outside. A couple of hotel employees kept staring at me with this "I know who you are" kind of grin. I'm not kidding. I would politely say, "Good morning," and they would respond with giddiness. As I was leaving a nearby coffee shop, the barista there wished me good luck.
I wasn't even wearing a pair of gym shoes.
When I returned to the hotel later that night, the fans were still there. As well as the media. I got out of the cab and was greeted with cheers and camera flashes. I panicked and sprinted inside.
I told my friend Simon with the ATP what had happened and he just laughed. I guess it was funny. David Hasselhoff was big in Germany, and apparently I was all the rage in Sweden.
The next day was more of the same -- literally. The crowd outside of the hotel easily doubled from the day before. The good thing is that they are extremely polite. In the States, fans wouldn't think twice about walking into the hotel and crowding the lobby. In Stockholm, they waited patiently behind the rope outside in the cold.
I walked outside, and again the cheers started -- only this time there were no cabs parked immediately in front of the hotel. I sheepishly stood there for a few moments as people asked me to look their way so they could take my picture. I did hear a few say they thought I was James Blake -- not a bad guess considering we're similar in height and JB had locks at one point. Of course, he's bald now.
Anyway, I was standing there, and this really cute girl was begging -- no, pleading -- for an autograph. Feeling for her, I walked over and asked, "Do you even know my name?" She responded without missing a beat, "I don't know, but can I please have your autograph?"
So I gave it to her. I figured if she didn't care I was a nobody, then why should I? Signing her autograph prompted others to lean my way so I signed theirs too. About 10 total before I waved and then walked to the cab. I couldn't help but laugh as I headed back to the tennis center to interview real athletes.
As I got out of the taxi, the driver wished me good luck, even though I had no racket and was wearing a blazer. I said thank you. Who doesn't want good luck?
But later that night my undeserved fame came to a screeching halt. I was leaving the hotel with Simon and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal. As we made our way outside, the once-polite crowd rushed past the rope and hotel security to surround Nadal, pushing Simon and me off to the side. I watched as Rafael signed autographs, desperately trying to make his way to the car that was waiting for him. And just like that I went from Paul McCartney to Ringo Starr.
Point. Set. Match.
Game's over, mocha.
Last week I wrote a piece about the n-word in the locker room and my decision to rid it from my vocabulary. As a columnist, I always sit in front of my computer with two goals to be honest with the readers and to try to write something that touches them. With that said, I was truly humbled by the overwhelming number of e-mails I received in response to the piece. From soldiers in Iraq to schoolteachers in Japan, readers from all walks of life chimed in on the subject matter with personal stories, additional questions, thank yous and rebuttals. I am still going through my in-box but I didn't want too much time to pass before saying thank you. I also wanted to share a note that I found particularly inspiring.
It was from Walt Javian Walker, starting right tackle for the University of South Florida football team. Walt told me the column prompted a dialogue within the squad and the eventual decision by the players to not only stop using the n-word in the locker room, but to rid it from their vocabulary as well. Many of you who wrote in asked what you could do to help race relations. I'm no expert, but I believe Walt and the USF Bulls are onto something not being afraid to talk to each other with an open heart.
I have never rooted for USF in anything before in my life, but you better believe when the Bulls face East Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl on Dec. 23, I'll be pulling for them. In more ways than one.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." He is currently working on his first book. LZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.