Serena Williams: A Personal Appreciation
I usually curbed my young snot-nosed jerk when I was around my grandmother, but she had to check me on it one time when we were watching a Roberto Duran fight. It was in the early 90s, past when Ray Leonard pasted him in their rubber match, and about a decade removed from when he was world-class. I didn’t understand why big mama and my uncles watched him: he had a gut and looked lackadaisical in various southern casinos(and against fighters that looked like they trained at the local Mcdonald’s). Big Momma quickly told me to shut my little black ass up. Holding my hand firmly and twisting it. (her mode of discipline for me) she said Duran was an artist in that ring, the greatest fighter to walk the earth next to Ray Robinson. She told me she watched Duran’s last fights the same way she saw Muhammad Ali’s and Robinson’s last fights: out of respect for what they gave her for being so good for so long.
The more I saw them watch old fighters, the more I understood my grandmother and uncle’s context. That group stayed to the end to support Robinson and Ali and would stay to the end to support Duran, Pryor, Arguello, and Leonard (and later, after my grandmother’s death, Whitaker and Chavez) because they knew boxing’s existentialist appeal. Like those fighters, they came from the rough side of the mountain and made the most of their circumstances. Also like them, they had been cheated, had either broken or been broken down, had fallen in circumstances or had seen somebody fall. They even watched the ones who had succeeded and left the game intact (Hagler) because they knew that, like several of them, their success had come at a price.
If my grandmother were alive for Serena Williams, I know that she would have told me to get her tennis magazines so that she could read up and be knowledgeable about what she is doing. I also know that she would have watched every match, including her last loss. More than anything, I know that yesterday and the entire Wimbledon was a celebration of not just the greatest tennis player of all time but one of the most defiant and beautiful black women of all time getting out of a power structure game alive. That yesterday wasn’t going to end with her doing everything right and not getting a dime from the WTA after having two strokes (Althea Gibson). That…