I dream Serena…

Like pretty much everyone I know, I’m hoping next week will bring the news that Serena Williams pulls out the Grand Slam. There haven’t been too many other athletes with the significance of Serena during my lifetime, and I’ve arrived at that place in life where there are more years behind me than there are down the road ahead. Unless, of course, I live to be 114 which, unlike the prospect of a Serena Grand Slam victory, isn’t anything I’m hoping for even in the slightest.

But I do remember Muhammad Ali in his prime. And I remember Arthur Ashe. I even met him once at a friend’s party when I was a kid. He signed a tennis ball for me. I remember Hank Aaron. And Martina Navratilova. There are a few others, but not many. One thing they all have in common in my memory is the sheer joy of watching the best ever do what they do.

But the names just mentioned are something more than simply the ‘best ever’ – if ‘simply’ can be used here – because athletes like Serena are far bigger than their sport or their athletic accomplishments. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are both remarkable athletes, but neither one of them even approaches the significance of a Serena Williams.

Still, according to FiveThirtyEight:

“Williams has enjoyed as big of a gap between herself and the field as anyone in modern tennis history — at the moment she has more than double the ranking points as No. 2Simona Halep. And with the assistance of a time machine, most top tennis players today could probably (though not definitely) beat most top players in history. So obviously Williams is the Greatest Of All Time, right?”

Not so fast.

The post by Benjamin Morris and Carl Bialik goes on to point out in painstaking and exquisitely researched detail why Serena, despite being as much of a phenomenal and otherworldly talent as she is, may not, in fact, be the absolute best of all time. There are all sorts of mathematical factors and calculations to substantiate this claim, the sort for which FiveThirtyEight is deservedly so well-known, and their arguments are well-taken.

Also, in case anyone thinks this is an anti-Serena post, it is the farthest thing from it. This is simply a by-the-numbers assessment, which is completely valid in terms of  a subject worthy of inquiry and strict scrutiny. Plus, in the era in which we all live these days, there is no such thing as a memory anymore except the ones on our hard drive. If it happened yesterday then we forgot it already. What Morris and Bialik do is to remind the reader that when you want to crown someone as the best ever of all time, you had best come prepared to defend that assessment with more than your glassy-eyed fan status.

That being said, even if Serena is not The One for all time, there is still something to be said for being The One for the time in which you are living. And in the world of sport, Serena is, without question, That One. Serena Williams is the Barack Obama of sports, going where no one before her has ever gone before, and not going at all quietly but with a hammer, a blowtorch, and a megaphone cranked up to 10.

Because watching Serena is like watching history rise up as a living, breathing thing as it, too stands in awe of what it is seeing.

I dream Serena…


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