Dustin Brown: Ride, Natty, Ride

Dustin Brown didn’t make it to the Wimbledon finals, but he still conquered Jamaican affections, on- and offline

Photography by lev radin / Shutterstock.com

The news came, as it often does these days, via Facebook. One after another, posts lit up my timeline, with a high proportion of Jamaican patwa. “That Jamaican just beat Nadal?!!!” asked one celebrated writer. Responses came fast and furious: “Baxiiide!!!!!!!!” “Brap! Brap!” “That totally hot Jamaican!” And the lyrics from a Bob Marley song quickly turned into a hashtag: “#RideNattyRide.”

The “totally hot Jamaican” who crashed the Internet in early July and sent double Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal crashing out of this year’s tournament is, of course, Dustin Brown. Although he was actually born in Germany, the Rastaman who dusted the tenth-seeded Rafa was promptly claimed by Jamaicans at home and abroad on behalf of De Yardie Hempire, thanks to his Jamaican father. They went into rapture in the Twittersphere. Even Jamaica’s Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna (a headliner herself, as Miss World in 1993), tweeted: “Ride Natty Ride & Mi Seh Guh Deh Dreddy Guh Deh!!!”

Or, as Carole Beckford, former publicist for Usain Bolt and now Jamaica’s Film Commissioner, expressed it in slightly more measured language, “It’s great that tennis is diversifying in the men’s category, and I’m proud of Dustin’s achievements. Defeating the world’s number ten is remarkable. I am also proud that he has Jamaican roots and his recent Wimbledon performance adds to positive publicity for Jamaica.”

That’s putting it mildly. In Britain, the media went wild over the six-foot-five-inch dreadlocked thirty-year-old. ‘‘Phwoar! Britain’s long hot summer of lust” was the headline on Polly Vernon’s piece in The Times of London. “He’s out of the tournament, but who cares,” she wrote. “Tennis is not my point. My point is that Brown sparked an epic, communal, countrywide crush. The women of Britain are united in our admiration of him.”

And they aren’t alone. Brown’s Instagram account now has seventy thousand followers. The Day After, as it will always be known, in Brown’s mind at least, he posted on his Facebook account: THX 2 ALL THE MESSAGES & COMMENTS & LIKES FROM EVERY1 . . . MEANS THE WORLD TO ME!!!! # TEAMDREDDY

The hundreds of comments in response included: “Look out for a very excited fan with a Jamaican shirt on Court 3 tomorrow! Whatever happens tomorrow, we’re all so proud of you, your achievements and the way you carry yourself as a professional. Vamos Dreddy!” One punter, who had taken the big odds on him against Nadal, even thanked him for the money he had won. Another asked if he was the son of Dennis Brown, the late reggae singer, perhaps unaware of just how many Browns there are in Jamaica.

In 1996, as an eleven-year-old, Brown moved from Germany to Jamaica’s second city, Montego Bay, with his parents, and he became a fixture on the junior tennis circuit. He even represented Jamaica in the Davis Cup. Unfortunately, the Jamaica Tennis Association did not give him the support he needed for an international career, and he returned to Germany in 2004 (he has dual citizenship). His years spent “touring” Europe in a Volkswagen camper van, competing at low-level tournaments, and earning money on the side by stringing rackets for other competitors (he had a stringing machine in the van), honed his survival skills. So although Brown lost in the next Wimbledon round to Serbian Vikto Troiki, his story is far from over. You ain’t seen the last of this bona fide Rastaman.