John McEnroe is a unique American sports icon. Brash and opinionated he was liked and disliked in equal measure during his career. But those rough edges have been his greatest asset over the years. He’s learned to laugh at himself and has developed other interests, from art and music to remaining a fixture in the media, both tennis and non-tennis related.
McEnroe has developed a terrific Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) that makes him as relevant today as he wast 30 years ago as he rose to stardom on the court. Players such as Sampras and Borg may have been technically better players, but they did not (or chose not) to develop their brands in a way that engaged the consumer. Not only were they arguably better, but they also had fewer negatives. I don’t think you’d ever hear someone say something bad about Pete Sampras.
But the most compelling stories have tension and contradiction and moral grey areas. That’s what McEnroe has given us for 30 years. Sometimes trying to please everyone isn’t the best answer. Being authentic, even if that means alienating some consumers, is the key to being relevant over the long haul. Catch up with Johnnie Mac in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine.