Tonight, Jazz players Gordon Hayward and John Lucas III attended the PowerShares Champions Challenge, a pro exhibition event featuring John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake, and Pete Sampras playing each other in a knockout tournament. Impressively, tournament organizers successfully changed EnergySolutions Arena into a tennis court Tuesday in between Monday and Wednesday’s NBA games.
With Hayward busy at a team appearance on the other side of town, Lucas appeared first, about two hours before the 7 PM start time. McEnroe and Sampras had just finished playing a group of VIPs who paid for the privilege to get a clinic with the pros, and McEnroe was hitting on a nearly empty court with the new-to-the-tour Sampras after the VIPs left:
This is when Lucas walked in, and after Sampras left, McEnroe approached Lucas. McEnroe attended the Jazz/Celtics game the night before, and the two talked about the game and Lucas’ tennis background. Lucas was a nationally ranked player in high school, and his father was an All-American in tennis before making the NBA.
Then, McEnroe wanted to hit with Lucas, and John was happy to oblige. They spent over 5 minutes hitting, and John showed an impressive forehand and backhand, especially given that he hadn’t played since the Jazz’s offseason. After I filmed him hitting with McEnroe, Lucas III was very excited to send the video to his tennis-loving father.
McEnroe then left the court to have his pregame meal, and fans started filing in. In the event’s first semifinal, James Blake beat a talkative Jim Courier. Then, in between semifinals, Hayward and Lucas came to the court to try the target challenge. Hayward, too, played tennis in high school before switching to basketball fulltime. He went first, and hit the target with his first of three shots:
Lucas came next. Given his performance hitting with McEnroe earlier, it was surprising when he missed the target all three times. Jeff Griffin, this year’s Wheelchair NBA All-Star Game MVP came up third. Griffin also is the state of Utah’s #1 ranked wheelchair tennis player, and so perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to see him hit the target all three times.
Lucas and Hayward took their place in the stands in the third row at center court for the rest of the proceedings. In the event’s second semifinal, John McEnroe beat Pete Sampras. In the final, James Blake returned to defeat John McEnroe 7-6 in a tiebreak (7-5). McEnroe still argued strenuously with the umpire even at age 55:
It was a good time for tennis in Utah, and of course, a great chance for NBAers Gordon Hayward and John Lucas III to hit with tennis icons. They said they haven’t played each other yet, but plan to soon. No doubt, all the fans who attended, including Hayward and Lucas, went home happy.