Joey Carson grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where heat and humidity made the unholiest of marriages. But Carson was never one to take refuge in the shade.Now chief executive officer of Bunim/Murray Prods. (“The Simple Life”), Carson fought fire with a tennis racket. “In the summer, probably from age 10 to 16, I remember my mom would drop me off at the court at 8 o’clock in the morning with $2, and she’d pick me up sometimes at 10 o’clock at night,” Carson says. “I’d always be there from at least 8 to 8, on the court 10 hours, seven days a week.” A regular on the tournament circuit as a teenager, the 43-year-old Carson returned to the sport five years ago and is now ranked 64th in the nation by the United States Tennis Assn. among men ages 40-44. Within that age group in California, he is in the top 25. There are no more dawn-to-dusk days in the Texas sun, but Carson says he currently plays three or four times a week in relatively temperate Los Angeles — mostly doubles with friends until the next tourney approaches. When he competes, it’s as much about the workout as the thrill of competition. But more often than not, Carson’s enjoyment of the sport stems from the professional and personal relationships he develops. Carson’s fondest memory is when he and one of his regular playing partners, Phil McGraw (aka TV’s Dr. Phil), got some court time with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, the band Carson worshipped growing up. “They came to play on the day of their show at the Hollywood Bowl,” remembers Carson, who originally came to Los Angeles to pursue drumming. “So we played from 11 to 3, four hours in the middle of the day. We all got sunburned. Then they left to do their sound check, and we went to their sound check that night. We sat back and watched the show, and went backstage afterward. … It was kind of a weird combination of the two dreams of my life.” All in all, Carson has savored his moments in the sun, no matter how hot. “My mom says to me, ‘I’ll never regret one dime of money I spent on your tennis lessons.’ It’s true. Tennis has been the X factor in my life.”
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