Dylan Alcott Talks Wu-Tang, Sneakers and Life After Tennis

Dylan Alcott, Australian Of The Year, 7-time Australian Open champion and Wu-Tang fan, talks to Complex AU about his next move after dominating tennis.

Australian wheelchair tennis player Dylan Alcott

Australian wheelchair tennis player Dylan Alcott

Australian wheelchair tennis player Dylan Alcott

There’s a lot of talk about GOATs these days. Tom Brady retired. Rafa just took out 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 Golds, the only player to ever accomplish the ‘Golden Slam’? These are legitimate GOAT stats. 

Alcott flexes the kind of ongoing, otherworldly success that transcends and ultimately elevates the sport. It’s that Michael Jordan effect that launched the NBA from America’s third-favourite sport to a global phenomenon. That Sam Kerr effect that put the Matildas on the average Australian’s watch list. Could you name another wheelchair tennis player before Alcott? Admittedly, I couldn’t. But now, the names Lapthorne, Schroder and Vink mean something to me. 

Only a day after playing his final game of professional tennis, and two days after accepting the Australian Of The Year award, Dylan Alcott sat down with Complex AU to explain that all the on-court success is secondary to his main objective: creating change to improve the lives of anyone with a disability.

What are you going to do with your time now?

I have a little bit more time because I trained four to five hours a day, six days a week. I do way too much already. So that’s podcast, radio, TV, my consulting firm GSA, but most of my time goes to the [Dylan Alcott] foundation. I’m looking to having more time on that. I want to get into acting one day, I want to go on a holiday. I’m excited.

Acting really works into representation, which is so central to your messaging

For sure 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 is in a wheelchair?

We’ve seen it before if a transgender role was cast by a cisgendered person, there has been a huge backlash in the past. But I’ve never heard of that with a wheelchair role.

It happens, but only people with disabilities get up and about it. It isn’t 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 role. Hopefully me, we’ll see how we go. I want to win an Oscar one day, that’s my new thing. Put my Logie in the bin, and … [laughs].

Speaking of being on-screen, there was a viral video of you a few years ago on Q+A, dropping Wu-Tang references all the way through 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 match is “Protect Ya Neck”, always has been. I played tennis for 24 hours nonstop and raised a hundred grand for the foundation back in 2015, and the next I went to Meredith [Music Festival].

Ghostface was saying ‘we need someone to get up and do the Method Man verse from Protect Ya Neck’. I was a hundred meters away, I crowd surfed in. He’s like, ‘nah that guy won’t know it’. Everyone’s pointing at me. I wasn’t famous at this point, no-one knew who I was.

And he’s like, nah, he didn’t want me to embarrass myself. And then eventually picked me, he goes, ‘do you know this? Are you gonna fuck this up?’ I said, ‘mate, I’ll do all seven verses if you want.’ It was probably was a bit keen because I’d had about 20 beers. 

I think that, 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 it on your left’, it was like … [makes explosion sound]. It’s still one of the best moments of my life.

I did it at the Espy the next night with him. And then whenever they come to Australia, we hang out, it’s pretty cool.

So who else is on your playlist, outside of Wu-Tang?

Early ‘90s hip hop is my thing. Nas, Wu-Tang, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, heaps of shit. I’ve always wanted to be a rapper so maybe that’s next. 

So who’s the GOAT rapper?

Biggie. Something about retiring early, like I’ve done. He retired for a different reason though. What really got me into hip hop was like, Biggie, Nas, Big Daddy Kane.

You’ve got the Air Jordan 1s on today, I’ve seen you over the years at different events, always in something fresh–

Have you seen these? They’re actually not just Jordans. [Opens up the Air Jordan 1 FlyEase]

I play tennis in these. It’s dope isn’t it? So, whether you’re wearing splints or you can’t use your hands very well or, like me, I can’t flex my foot so it’s really hard to get shoes on. So fucking cool. But yea I’m a big sneakerhead.

So is Jordan your thing, or

Yea, but I’m like … TNs, 97s, 95s, I wear Shox a lot as well, I love them. I got a pair of the Skeppys, the Skepta Shox. I’ve got, legit, three to four hundred pairs of shoes. And I don’t walk, which is funny.

You’ve been with Nike a long time now, how did that come about?

For Nike global, but especially here in Australia, to put a guy with a disability in as 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 got $500 to spend, and then I won the US Open in 2015. And in my speech, I said thanks to Nike because they gave me $500 worth of product.

And then these four guys go up to my dad and ask ‘do you know that guy?’, he goes, ‘yeah that’s my son’, one of them says ‘my name’s Mark Parker, I’m the MD of Nike global, this is Massimo he’s the head of tennis, why did your son thank Nike?’ My dad says ‘we got some stuff from Nike Australia’, and Mark Parker goes ‘he’s now a Nike global athlete’. I got sponsored that day.

By Mark Parker of all people

That’s how it started and we’ve just grown together. I don’t partner with people unless they have the same ethos as I do. And I mean that, like, I’m not just going to get product and cash off people, that’s not what I’m about. 

They genuinely give a shit about inclusion, diversity and powering different voices, and amplifying them. So, the support they’ve given to my foundation now with this new grant where we’re going to help some young athletes in this country level up and become, hopefully great people first and foremost, but better athletes as well, is pretty special. 

Nike set up a new installation at the Emporium in Melbourne, you scan a QR code and you’re taken to dylanalcottlegacy.com.au. With that in mind, what would you like your legacy to be?

I don’t want my legacy to be ‘good tennis player’, that’s for sure. It’s not what I’m about. You know, being a good tennis player is the number 30 priority on my priority list. Being a good person first and foremost, but just if I’m remembered as someone who affected some change so even one person with a disability can get out and live a better life, well then that’s what I’ve been put here to do. 

It’s all about changing those perceptions and eliminating the unconscious bias that people have towards people with disability that we can’t do anything. If I can play a role in that, well, then I’ve done my job.

I saw the mural down in Richmond, the quote on there is that it’s not about championships but it’s about your purpose. You’ve won an obscene amount of stuff, but it seems that the more important work is the inspiration you’re providing?

One thousand percent. The GOATs aren’t the ones who win the most tennis tournaments. It’s what you stand for and what you say. That is way more important to me than winning tennis tournaments. My purpose 10 years ago, yesterday, tomorrow, and in 10 years, we’ll be the same, which is to change perception.

Winning the Australian Open or Australian Of The Year doesn’t change that. I’m still the same person. I don’t get out of bed to win awards, that doesn’t get me going. But what does get me going is seeing 500 kids in wheelchairs at the tennis.

Something that stood out to me about the crowd during your final was the amount of kids there. And they’re not just there because their parents dragged them out, they’re there to see you and they’re really engaged in your match. Have you noticed that?

Oh, for sure. You try not to focus on it too much when you’re out there because then you can’t play, but it’s unbelievable. And they don’t give a shit that I’m in a wheelchair. Like, they couldn’t care less. And that’s the powerful thing. 

I remember I met a girl during the week, a mum. And she said, ‘my kid has being absolutely nagging me to come to the tennis to see her favourite tennis player’, and it was me. And she’s able-bodied. It’s not just wheelchair kids. She’s an able-bodied kid and her mum is like, ‘she’s asked me every fucking day to come to see you’. How cool is that? I love that. That’s what it’s about. And we did this together. It’s not me, it’s we. It’s my team, my family, Nike, everybody amplifying my voice. And I’m very lucky that it all happened.

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