Dylan Alcott talks Wu-Tang, sneakers and life after tennis
We talk a lot about goats these days. Tom Brady has retired. Rafa has just won a record 21st Grand Slam. Serena, LeBron, Messi, still out there GOATing. But Dylan Alcott? The guy with 23 Grand Slams (15x singles, 8x doubles), 3 Paralympic gold medals, the only player to ever achieve the “Golden Slam”? These are legit GOAT stats.
Alcott flexes the kind of ongoing, otherworldly success that ultimately transcends and elevates the sport. It was this Michael Jordan Effect that propelled the NBA from America’s third favorite sport to a global phenomenon. That Sam Kerr effect that put Matildas on the average Australian’s watch list. Could you name another wheelchair tennis player before Alcott? Of course, I couldn’t. But now the names Lapthorne, Schroder and Vink mean something to me.
Just a day after playing his last professional tennis match and two days after accepting the Australian of the Year award, Dylan Alcott spoke to Complex AU to explain that all success on the court is secondary to his main objective: to create change to improve the lives of all people with disabilities.
What are you going to do with your time now?
I have a little more time because I train four to five hours a day, six days a week. I already do too much. So that’s podcasting, radio, TV, my GSA consultancy, but most of my time goes to [Dylan Alcott] foundation. I hope to have more time on this. I want to be an actor one day, I want to go on vacation. I’m excited.
Acting really works in representation, which is so central to your message
Of course man, I mean, I hate it when I see able-bodied actors playing a character in a wheelchair. It’s like, get fucked, why can’t you hire an actor who’s in a wheelchair?
We’ve seen it before if a transgender role was played by a cisgender person, there’s been a huge backlash in the past. But I’ve never heard of that with a wheelchair role.
It happens, but only disabled people get up and deal with it. It is not amplified by able-bodied people. So I think that’s where allies come in but, you’re right, you can’t do that shit anymore. I’m sure there are actors with disabilities who would kill the part. I hope that I will see how we are doing. I want to win an Oscar one day, that’s my new thing. Put my Logie in the trash, and… [laughs].
Speaking of being on screen, a few years ago there was a viral video of you on Q+A dropping Wu-Tang references throughout your answers. And another viral video of you years before that, on stage with Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch.
The last song I listen to before every game is “Protect Ya Neck”, it always has been. I played tennis for 24 hours straight and raised a hundred grand for the foundation in 2015, and the next day I went to Meredith [Music Festival].
Ghostface said ‘we need someone to get up and do the Method Man verse from Protect Ya Neck’. I was a hundred meters away, I surfed. He said ‘no, this guy won’t know’. Everyone is pointing at me. I wasn’t famous then, nobody knew who I was.
And he’s like, no, he didn’t want me to embarrass myself. And then finally he chose me, he said to me ‘You know that? Are you going to screw this up?’ I said, ‘man, I’ll do all seven verses if you want.’ It was probably a little brisk because I had had about 20 beers.
I think, for the crowd, it was like watching a car crash because they thought I was going to bomb it. They were silent. And everyone was like, ‘this is going to be embarrassing’. And then as soon as I went ‘it’s the Method Man / for short Mr Meth, move him to your left‘, It was like… [makes explosion sound]. It’s still one of the best times of my life.
I did it at Espy the next evening with him. And then when they come to Australia, we hang out, it’s pretty cool.
So who else is on your playlist besides Wu-Tang?
Early 90s hip hop is my thing. Nas, Wu-Tang, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, loads of shit. I always wanted to be a rapper so maybe that’s the next step.
So, who is rapper GOAT?
Biggie. Something about retiring early, like I did. He retired for another reason though. What really made me love hip hop was Biggie, Nas, Big Daddy Kane.
You’re wearing the Air Jordan 1s today, I’ve seen you over the years at different events, always in something fresh–
Have you seen these? It’s not just Jordans. [Opens up the Air Jordan 1 FlyEase]
I play tennis in these. It’s doping, isn’t it? So whether you’re wearing splints or can’t use your hands very well or like me, I can’t flex my foot so it’s really hard to put on shoes. So cool. But yeah, I’m a big sneakerhead.
So Jordan is your thing, or
Yeah, but I’m like… TNs, 97s, 95s, I wear a lot of Shox too, I love them. I have a pair of Skeppys, the Skepta Shox. I have, legitimately, three to four hundred pairs of shoes. And I don’t walk, which is funny.
You’ve been with Nike for a long time now, how did it go?
For Nike globally, but especially here in Australia, putting a disabled guy at the front of your brand, the biggest brand in the world, is epic.
It’s actually a cool story. I was trying to get sponsored by Nike. I was invited to the Nike staff store, and I had $500 to spend, and then I won the US Open in 2015. And in my speech, I said thank you to Nike because they m donated $500 worth of product.
And then these four guys go to my dad and ask him ‘do you know this guy?’ it’s Massimo he’s the boss of tennis, why did your son thank Nike?’ My dad says “we have some Nike Australia stuff”, and Mark Parker says “he’s now a global Nike athlete”. I was sponsored that day.
By Mark Parker of All People
That’s how it all started and we just grew together. I don’t associate with anyone unless they have the same ethics as me. And I mean, like, I’m not just going to get products and cash in on people, that’s not who I am.
They really don’t care about inclusion, diversity and the power of different voices, and their amplification. So the support they’ve given my foundation now with this new grant where we’re going to help some young athletes in this country grow and become hopefully first and foremost, but better athletes as well, is pretty special.
Nike has set up a new facility at the Emporium in Melbourne, you scan a QR code and you’re taken to dylanalcottlegacy.com.au. With that in mind, what would be your legacy?
I don’t want my legacy to be a ‘good tennis player’, that’s for sure. It’s not my point. You know, being a good tennis player is priority number 30 on my priority list. To be a good person first and foremost, but just if I’m remembered as someone who brought about change so that even a disabled person could go out and live a better life, well that’s why that I was put here.
It’s about changing those perceptions and eliminating the unconscious bias people have towards people with disabilities that we can’t do anything. If I can play a part in that, well, I did my job.
I saw the mural in Richmond, the quote is it’s not about championships it’s about your goal. You’ve earned an obscene amount of stuff, but it seems like the most important work is the inspiration you provide?
One thousand percent. The GOATs are not the ones who win the most tennis tournaments. That’s what you stand for and what you say. It’s much more important to me than winning tennis tournaments. My goal 10 years ago, yesterday, tomorrow, and in 10 years, we will be the same, is to change perceptions.
Winning the Australian Open or Australian of the Year doesn’t change that. I am still the same person. I don’t get out of bed to win prizes, it doesn’t get me ahead. But what motivates me is seeing 500 children in wheelchairs playing tennis.
Something that stood out to me about the crowd at your final was the number of kids in attendance. And they’re not just there because their parents dragged them out, they’re there to see you and they’re really committed to your game. Did you notice that?
Of course. You try not to focus too much on that when you’re there because then you can’t play, but it’s amazing. And they don’t care that I’m in a wheelchair. Like, they don’t care. And that is what is powerful.
I remember meeting a girl during the week, a mom. And she said, “my kid absolutely pestered me to come to tennis to see his favorite tennis player,” and that was me. And it is valid. It’s not just children in wheelchairs. She’s an able-bodied child and her mother is like ‘she asked me every fucking day to come see you’. How cool is that? I like this. That’s what it’s about. And we did it together. It’s not me, it’s us. It’s my team, my family, Nike, everyone amplifies my voice. And I’m very lucky that it all happened.