Serena Williams’s Journey to Being a Woman in Basketball

How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport

As a 17-year-old growing up on a small Connecticut island, Serena Williams was obsessed with basketball, and not just because, you know, the sport is fun and has a good story. Williams’s passion was rooted in the way it spoke to her teenage angst; the way it allowed her to transcend her gender.

“Basketball was the place where I felt like I belonged. I wanted to be a part of that,” she says. “There’s nothing feminine or masculine about it. The only thing that separates it is the game, and the way you play the game that makes you feel good about yourself.”

After high school, Williams went to Howard University, the school that would become synonymous with a new generation of women’s basketball stars — all the way to the Final Four. But while the sport was changing in the States, it was hard to break free of gender norms. While other women began to play the sport in ways that went beyond the basic game of two-on-two, there was still a sense that being involved in basketball meant becoming a man.

For Williams, it wasn’t a matter of just finding a way to play the sport that felt feminine; she looked to the other women around her for inspiration. “It became more about being feminine and trying to understand who we were as women when I was with the game,” she says. “So I would talk to my friends and teammates, and they would tell me if I was doing it right. And I would ask them.” In her case, she says, it was about a sense of urgency: “I just had this sense that I was never going to lose that feeling.”

So in 2005, she started a blog and later started a YouTube channel called “The Tennis Bootcamps,” where she had the opportunity to express her vision of what it means to be a female athlete.

“It was a way for me to be free, but also be able to show everyone that I had been given to be free before I had the opportunity to do something to prove that

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