court is short for courtney 😈
There's typically an age at which you stop being cool. For me, it was 17. For most people, it's "old." Old is not a number; it's a tangible quality, one that I can discern by visual cues alone. If I take one look at you, I can tell you if you're "old or "not old." It's an impressive skill, I know, and one that got me a full ride to Brown's Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), but I don't want to spend so much time patting myself on the back.
The vaguely defined rules of life place you in a biblical bassinet, send you down the Nile, gently nudge you down the meandering streams and affluents of childhood, young adulthood, and middle-age, and then tell you it's time to slow down. Some people have defied this edict (John Slattery, Jane Fonda, Stan Van Gundy). Most people have accepted their fate (my grandma, most likely some of my friends' grandparents, other old people in my life, other old people not in my life).
Then there's Mansour Bahrami.
This is a crude and imperfect analogy, but Bahrami is to tennis what Bill Murray is to studio comedies. He's the elder statesman, an aging, charismatic presence whose appeal lies not in actual competitive play, but rather showmanship and pure entertainment value. He is the definition of a fan favorite—his prime years well behind him, his role is to play in senior invitational tournaments, do funny, undeniable cool shit on the court, and make everyone happy. It's all a guy could ever want to be. And if there's one thing guys want, it's to be able to dunk; if there's a second thing guys want, it's a YouTube compilation titled "their name + Best Trick Shots."
The details of Bahrami's life paint a sadder portrait, of course—one of hardship and denied opportunity. Born and raised in Iran, he grew up learning tennis with makeshift rackets and the palms of his hands. He clearly possessed an uncanny and prodigious talent, eventually securing a spot on the national team by the time he was 13. Then came the Iranian Revolution, and his beloved sport was banned in Iran due to its associations with the West and capitalism. He eventually emigrated to France, but was denied nationality, and thus unable to compete on the ATP tour until 1986—when he was 30, and his peak competitive years were behind him.
This is undeniably sad, but the niche that Bahrami has now carved out for himself is just as impressive, a new tributary of life that he was able to steer himself into. He is still a tennis player, and a preternaturally skilled one, but more than that, he is beloved. He's an entertainer, a willing and enthusiastic clown, and that is cool as fuck.
It's obviously more impressive (and lucrative) to be Roger Federer, but at the end of the day, I don't know if I would rather be him or Mansour Bahrami. Federer’s is a life of multiple surgeries, constant training and nutrition, unbelievable pressure and expectations. This guy probably just hangs out with his family, waltzes into a few tournaments a year in a crisp Lacoste polo, performs his routine, and then shapes his sick-ass mustache. Much cooler, and everyone loves him.
I’ve spent the past few years since college struggling against my careerist urges, resisting the pull of becoming an ambition monster who slowly lets the joy and fun get sucked out of their life in pursuit of some ideal end stage that’ll never come. People like Mansour Bahrami give me hope; hope that there’s some version of being a proper adult that doesn’t involve relentless competition with other Rationally Self-Interested adults to grab the biggest slice of the pie. That there can be satisfaction and freedom in knowing yourself totally, playing your role, and eventually passing into the void with a smile on your face. I hope this guy never gets cancelled.