Thursday, December 2, 2010

What do the Bryan brothers, a Rabbi and Joe Piscopo have in common?

That's easy.  They all spent the first night of Hanukkah with me.

I moonlight as a tennis announcer, and last night I was the emcee and announcer for a charity exhibition at Courtside Racquet Club in Lebanon, NJ.  I agreed to do the event months ago, but it was only a few weeks back that I realized it was the first night of Hanukkah. Only seven crazy nights for me this year, I thought.

Boy was I wrong (more on that later).

The event featured identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan, two of the nicest professional athletes you could ever meet, and also the best doubles team in tennis history.  They've won nine grand slam titles (including three US Opens), and 67 career tournaments, the most ever by a doubles team.  New Jersey's own Justin Gimelstob and Eric Butorac from Minnesota rounded out the field.

The highlight for me was having Joe Piscopo as my co-host.  Picture this - an intimate little tennis stadium with 500 fans filling every seat, and two comfy leather chairs positioned next to the court by the net post. Those chairs were for Joe and me.  We had microphones clipped to our shirts, and once I  introduced the event, play began.  From then on I was the straight man.  Joe, every bit as nice as the Bryans, kept the crowd - and the players - laughing all night.  At one point he told the crowd we were undoubtedly one of the finest Italian - Jewish duos in history.  Or at least in the last couple weeks... in North Jersey.

And then there was the Rabbi.  Tennis exhibitions often include some sort of pre-planned program or presentation, so when Club Owner Ken Schapiro saw that the local Rabbi was in attendance, he put in motion something tennis has never seen.  The Rabbi lit a menorah on the small table next to my chair, and arm-and-arm with Joe Piscopo, sang the Hanukkah prayers.

When they were done, Joe looked at me and nodded, which was my cue to transition back to the tennis.  All I could say was that in my 10 years of announcing tennis matches of all kinds, I had never seen a Rabbi and a comedian light a menorah on court, not to mention that it was under the supervision of a chair umpire who was on his third glass of wine.

Oy vey.

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