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Yesterday, there seemed to be a lot of mixed emotions surrounding the release of what appeared to be Serena Williams departure from Tennis. As the greatest athlete of all time, it kind of got me wondering if this “retirement” was just for the moment and here is why.
In 1993, Michael Jordan, who is the greatest basketball player to touch the ball, retired for the first time shocking the world of sports. He lost his father and was under “alleged” investigation for some gambling debts by the league. They wanted to look into if he had broken any rules. At the press conference when he was asked if he would ever return he said, ” Five years down the road, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back.” Days after the announcement, investigation was dropped and Michael announced his decision to play Minor League Baseball until 1995. His infamous number 23 was retired. My dad, who is a die hard Knicks fan, cried that day.
Despite being gone for two years, Michael returned to the Bulls wearing the number 45. After reclaiming his number 23 a few months later, he won three back to back championships and released the movie, Space Jam which played on his decision to play baseball versus basketball. “When I came back, I thought 45 was perfect because I did have an association with the number. It didn’t take me long to change back to 23. It was part of me.” Michael said in his autobiography. But due to his issues with Jerry Krause, Michael once again retired in 1998 for the second time. Everyone believed it would be the last but again he returned in 2001. This time playing for the Washington Wizards for two years until he made the decision to finally walk away at 40 years old. The decision Michael Jordan made to play for the Wizards made Chicago fans so upset, they pretend it never happened.
That same year, another greatest of all time but in music, Jay-Z retired from hip hop causing an uproar in the community of music. He announced his final release would be “The Black Album” with his last tour to follow soon after. In his recent conversation with Kevin Hart on his “Hart to Heart” series, Jay-Z said “I really thought, you know, I was really burned out at that time. I was releasing an album every year and in between that, soundtracks, other people’s albums, Roc-a-Fella, touring, like back-to-back. I just looked up one day and was tired.” But just like his lyrics in Encore, “When I come back like Jordan, wearin’ the 45, it ain’t to play games with you” and he didn’t. Three years later, the chair swiveled and the smoke appeared and Jay declared he was back. “Show Me What You Got” was the single that would spawn a release of multiple tracks, endless collaborations with his wife Beyoncé and features galore. Would he retire again, Kevin asked. To Jay-Z’s reply ” Nah, I tried that.”
I say all this to say that I believe Serena will be back. Will it take multiple times like Michael Jordan before she finally steps away from tennis, maybe. But what history has taught us is that GOATs comeback. Whether it’s the void that appears from not playing anymore or the genuine love of the sport, my heart tells me she will return to tennis. Even if it’s just for the season, nothing is ever final. When you give so much of your heart and time into one thing, then that one thing is no longer the only thing in your life. You grow tired of sacrificing everything else and you come to terms with sacrificing what is taking up the most space. For Michael it was basketball, for Jay-Z it’s music and for Serena it’s tennis. Maybe I am just another woman who is shattered by the thought of never seeing Serena clutch another win, overcome another moment or feel the energy in the room when Serena walks down that path to the court. What I can say is no matter what happens, history is changed. Serena changed the game forever.