Serena Williams is the greatest athlete, even better than Lebron. Yes, I said so.

Serena Williams of the United States reacts during the women's singles first round match against Harmony Tan of France at The Championships, Wimbledon at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, Britain June 28, 2022. Former world number one in women's tennis Serena Williams has quit announced their intention to retire after the US Open, which begins on the 29th in New York.  Serena Williams, 40, has won 23 Grand Slam titles.

Serena Williams of the United States reacts during the women’s singles first round match against Harmony Tan of France at The Championships, Wimbledon at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, Britain June 28, 2022. Former world number one in women’s tennis Serena Williams has quit announced their intention to retire after the US Open, which begins on the 29th in New York. Serena Williams, 40, has won 23 Grand Slam titles.
photo: The Yomiuri Shim Bun (AP)

As a sports fan, I’ve reached a happy age where I can remember the careers of generations of greats. I’ve seen both LeBron and MJ in their prime (and unlike many cats too young to remember the latter bit, I have no use for a “who was better?” hot-take -Firmly). I’ve seen Barry Bonds play pirates and giants, Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod and Big Papi on the diamond. I’ve seen Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but also Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. I saw them all play live in the arena.

None of them was as good an athlete as Serena Williams. let me finish

Is not an argument against the size of any of these players or their athletic ability. That LeBron and Brady are still playing at a high level in their late 30s and mid 40s, respectively, is amazing, even when it comes to advances in nutrition, training and sports medicine, which have kept elite players in the game longer, but both dominated team sports whose success largely depended on the supporting casts around them. It took LeBron D-Wade and Chris Bosh to get over the NBA Finals hump, and though Brady won a ring without his, ahem, accomplice Bill Belichick, the Spygate stain will follow him into the Hall of Fame.

William’s status as the greatest athlete of her time stemmed from her dominance of a sport in which she had to rely only on her skill and ability to impose her will on anyone who stood on the other side of the net. For nearly two decades, she not only beat her opponents, she overwhelmed them as individuals. Along the way, she used up most of the oxygen allotted to her sport in the wider culture. She became ubiquitous, joining LeBron and Kobe and her sister Venus in the short list of American athletes whose first name alone was enough to open any door in the world.

Her 23 Grand Slam titles surpass any other athlete in the history of her sport, male or female. But that’s only part of the story of their competitive nature. Williams also made it to 10 other Grand Slam finals, for a total of 33 appearances on her sport’s biggest stage. Tiger Woods, whose early career rise trailed Williams’s in the late ’90s and early 2000s, continues to play but has been on the downhill side of his dominance for at least a decade. Today he’s still a crowd puller but almost never a threat to victory. Serena was and still is.

Perhaps the only other athlete who can match Williams’ dominance is Floyd Mayweather, the boxer who ended his career undefeated. Like Williams, Mayweather outstripped the competition in his sport, often making his opponents look goofy with a combination of speed and counterattacks that often made it seem like he was playing chess against his rivals’ checkers. Mayweather’s sport, like tennis, is also a competition without geographical boundaries. But some of Mayweather’s biggest fights – against Shane Mosely and especially Manny Pacquaio, to name just two – came later in his career against fighters who were past their prime. His fight with Canelo Alvarez was a fight against an outmatched young buck who hadn’t yet grown to the pound-for-pound dominance that Alvarez now enjoys.

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