Tennis in Boston and the Boston Bruins are in the news of late with the playing of the Staples Champions Cup “champions” tennis event (that featured John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Jim Courier and others) last weekend and the Bruins currently taking on the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL Playoffs.
Back in 1973, tennis and the hockey season were going on at the same time in Boston as the year-end ATP Finals, then called the Commercial Union Grand Prix Masters, was played at the Boston Garden. Jan Kodes of Czechoslovakia, who was the Wimbledon champion that year, tells a fun story in his book JAN KODES: A JOURNEY TO GLORY FROM BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN (sold here for $32.97 on amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Jan-Kodes-Journey-Behind-Curtain/dp/0942257685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272933734&sr=8-1) about how Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson saved him from a stressful shopping request in this exclusive book excerpt.
For a week, the Boston Garden arena, home of the Boston Bruins hockey players, transformed into a tennis arena with Matéfl ex surface. Jan arrived on Monday and checked into a hotel next to the arena. Since the tournament did not start until Wednesday he took advantage of the two free days for practice. After practice he joined others to eat and drink in a small bar opposite to the Garden.
Apparently, it was a popular meeting place of professional hockey players and that was exactly what I was seeking. It so happened that my brother-in-law, Milan Vopicka, gave me a task of buying him skates. He represented our country as a junior and later played hockey league for Sparta.
“You must buy me skates – Takabery; and also good boots. The best ones are CCM,” he requested of me before my departure.
We entered that bar after practice; we sat down and chatted, I ordered a light meal and a drink. At the bar, a chap was sitting next to me who suddenly turned to face me and asked: “You are a tennis player, aren’t you? Where are you from?”
“From Czechoslovakia; I am here to play the Commercial Union Grand Prix Masters.”
“Oh, that is great! We would like to watch some tennis. I am Derek Sanderson, a Boston Bruins hockey player.” He was one of the NHL’s most productive offensive players of that era, won Stanley Cup twice in 1970 and 1972!
I thought to myself: “Gee, this is unbelievable; such a star is sitting next to me!” We engaged in a conversation and discussed many topics – hockey, tennis… and suddenly I remembered: Damn, my brother-in-law and the skates! Should I ask Derek about it or should I not? Wouldn’t it be embarrassing?
At last I pulled the courage and asked: “Listen, would you be able to help me with something?” “What do you need?”
I explained to him that my brother-in-law was also a hockey player and needed some decent skates; at that he said: “Look, that’s not a problem. You give me your racket, I’ll give you skates.”
As I envisioned what he had just said I laughed; does he really mean it? At that point he already knew that I had won Wimbledon, but new boots with mounted skates on them cost then about five hundred dollars or more! That was not an inexpensive item!
We remained chatting there till about half past ten. Finally, we got up to take leave since our matches were going to start the following day. In the meantime, he ran off and sat at another table with some girl but as soon as he noticed that I was about to leave he yelled: “Hey guys! There will be tickets and hockey sticks for you, ok?!” Then he turned to me: “Come to the Garden tomorrow at eleven with the racket still in its wrap; take the elevator to the fourth floor and find the door that says “Boston Bruins” Somebody will be there and will give you the skates and boots.”
I restrained myself from getting too excited, nevertheless, I took the racket the next day after practice, got in the elevator on the second floor where our locker-room was, and rode the elevator up to the fourth. The door slid open and I felt like Alice in Wonderland! Wherever I looked there was red carpet…In other places there were tiles but the Boston Bruins had red carpets in front of each office and changing room….
I knocked on the door with the racket in my hand. Somebody opened; from his attire I thought he might be a custodian. “I am Jan Kodes…”
I did not manage to even finish a sentence “You are Jan Kodes! Do you have the racket?”
“I do; here it is.” I passed him the racket and he gave me a box. The original, still sealed box.
Skates, boots CCM, size eight and a half! I took it and left. “Golden” Derek saved me from having to run from one store to another in search of the skates. Additionally, I found out that it was not possible to find this brand in regular stores; they would have had to be ordered. For a long time this episode seemed to me like a dream that has passed by