When great athletes “hang ’em up.”

Sport is part of our wider culture, it captivates us like music, movies, fashion and so much more. 

 Moments both great and small captivate us.  Whether your thing is a Church picnic, a friendly tavern, diner or coffee shop, or just passing on the legends to our offspring in our back yard or garage, musicians, movie stars, athletes and other cultural icons help to mark our time.

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Despite having spent weeks’ worth of hours, racket-in-hand, beating tennis balls against my garage wall as a teen, I don’t really consider myself a tennis guy.

But Roger Federer’s retirement announcement, along with the recent final match of Serena Williams, sure gives me the feeling of nostalgia and melancholy that often attends the retirement of those who somehow we connect with despite them being larger than life.

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It’s not always those who follow in the “greatest of all time” discussions that can impact us in this way.

Growing up near Buffalo, New York, my attention was grabbed by Jimmy Arias, a local teenage tennis whiz who made a bit of a splash on the tennis scene but never propelled to that zenith reached by the likes of Federer and Williams.

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Before Arias, I always watched Wimbleton and paid attention to some of the greats of the era.  But, alas, there are so many athletic competitions and, unless we are blessed enough to be paid to do so, it’s virtually impossible to follow each as closely as we’d like.

I’ve remained a fan of Wimbleton and have watched Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and other contemporary tennis heavyweights go head-to-head over the years.

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon 2017 (Andrew Couldridge/Reuters)

I remember when the Williams sisters first made their splash.  At first, it was Venus, and then Serena.  They were trend breakers, and like all those who upset the established apple cart, they were considered bold and brash, from a family that didn’t represent the stereotypical  country club clientele.  

To say the least, their rise was not immediately and universally greeted with great appreciation.

Serena Williams of the United States poses with the Daphne Akhurst Trophy after winning the Women’s Singles Final against Venus Williams of the United States on day 13 of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia (Quinn Rooney | Getty Images)

They were not accidentally overturning the hierarchy.  It was willful and deliberate and done with a swag that usually accompanies radical change.

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While the Williams revolution is not the same stuff of Federer, his athletic excellence is indisputable as well.

When legends, or even the not-so-legendary who may have personally impacted us or in some way caught our attention step aside, it takes us mentally to and through their era — or rather, our shared experiences, even though shared from a distance and in very different ways.

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It reminds us of actions, sentiments, thoughts and expressions that mark our time together in the world.

It also reminds us that things pass, times have changed and new eras are yet to come.

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Now there are no more numbers to be added to their legendary accomplishments.  Their great matches have been played and can be found on YouTube, like old Tyson fights or Kobe and MJ games.

Like Stanley Cup finals, the Summitt Series and Grey Cups, Super Bowls, and World Series and World Cups gone by, they replay in the highlight reels, including those blazed in our memories.

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When greats like these leave their game it gives us a new way to rejoice with and for them.  It recalls to mind all the achievements they helped roll out, moment-by-moment, before our eyes, over the years.

Thanks for the memories, they will continue to play in our minds!

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