He wore blue jeans. He wore tennis shoes. He wore a white T-shirt with the name Sergio Tacchini across the front. Sergio makes tennis clothes. John McEnroe is paid to wear Sergio's stuff, kind of a walking billboard. Topping off his ensemble, McEnroe wore a denim jacket.
And someone asked, "John, are you going to the champions' dinner tonight?"
And the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in a reversal of its snub last year, now has invited McEnroe to be a member. They asked him after he lost today to Jimmy Connors. So maybe, since members go to the dinner, the question needed to be asked.
But look. If you had just played 4 hours and 14 minutes of tennis that meant more to you than anything . . . if you had lost the Wimbledon championship in the fifth set, and then immediately had to play a doubles championship match which you also lost . . . and if it's clear you are exhausted and emotionally empty, what would you do if someone asked a question designed to irritate you?
Last year, remember, McEnroe either ignored the champions' dinner after winning Wimbledon (that's the tournament's story) or couldn't get there in time because of traffic (his story). In any case, it caused another conflagration in the firestorm that enveloped McEnroe last summer.
So a wise guy in a British accent, goading McEnroe, asked, "Are you going to the champions' dinner tonight?"
As one more piece of evidence that McEnroe is making every effort to be a real person these days, he did not answer the fellow by dropping a chair from a great distance onto the fellow's head. Instead, he said dispassionately, "No, I'm not."
Then, a touch of melancholy in his voice, he said, "I didn't win any championship."
As if to twist the knife, the august All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club sent a distinguished member to McEnroe after he lost to Connors today.
The distinguished member in his mauve-and-green tie told McEnroe of the club's invitation to him.
The club a year ago broke with proud tradition by not inviting McEnroe, as champion, to join its distinguished society. This was seen as a spanking for the naughty boy. Then the club didn't give him his championship trophies, saying the deed was supposed to be done at the dinner and, when that was impossible, they just couldn't get together with McEnroe to make delivery.
For a whole year, that means not a single member of the distinguished All England club flew to New York on business. Such a trip could have included a stop at John McEnroe Sr.'s law office. The traveler could have carried the trophies.
Or, and this is creative thinking, the club could have put the trophies in a box, insured them and mailed them.
But no. The distinguished club didn't give McEnroe his trophies until he made a public issue of it last week.
They handed them over to McEnroe Sr. that day, with lots of distinguished harrumphing.
That same day McEnroe said it would be nice if the club invited him to be a member as it has invited every other Wimbledon champion in memory.
So, sometime this fortnight, the decision was made to ask McEnroe in. But only if he behaved himself. For two weeks, then, the distinguished members observed McEnroe closely, to see if he were worthy of their distinguished company.
Only after he lost today without incident did the club come to McEnroe and invite him to join.
Look. If you had just lost in 4 hours and 14 minutes . . . if you felt the distinguished members of the All England club had been unfair to you to the point of pettily keeping your trophies an entire year . . . if you were there in the locker room when someone in a mauve-and-green club tie approached, what would you do when he asked you to join his distinguished club?
As evidence convincing beyond doubt that McEnroe is working like hell to be the guy he can be, he did not reply that his fondest wish in this life is to see Mick Jagger do a concert on Centre Court.
"They've made an effort to be nicer to me," McEnroe told reporters later. "And I appreciate the fact they have invited me to be a member."
For two weeks here, McEnroe did all that could be asked of him. He caused no more ruckus than any competitive athlete in a pressure situation.
How much this affected his tennis, no one knows. He always has played best giving free rein to his emotions. If a piece of anger found its way into his mind, he verbalized it. More than that, he acted it out. It is no accident that three of the five McEnroe biographies here contain in their titles a reference to "rage."
For a fortnight, he seemed a man in an emotional straightjacket. On court today he railed only at himself in terms such as "moron," "idiot," "stupid," and "choke." Often he let out a primal scream of pain at some malfunction of his brilliant skill. But always he cut short the anger, never letting it build, and people who have seen him for years now wonder if he can play at the level of old without the fuel of his rage.
He hasn't won a tournament of any kind since January. Does he need the rage at full flame? Does diverting his energy to self-control take something away from his game?
"That's always what I thought," he said after losing today. "That's one of the reasons I was reluctant to change the way I act at times, because I think I need to get very into it, to get riled up to play well. People have told me that that's not true and when I start believing that myself, I won't use that as a barometer . . . But it's impossible to answer that question from just these two weeks."
Then a wise guy in a British accent asked something about an argument McEnroe is supposed to have had with another player the other day. This time McEnroe did what you would have.
He stood up and walked out of the room.