A long season full of tennis history behind her, Serena Williams arrived at Tuesday night’s Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award ceremony at Pier 60 flanked by those who have been by her side from the start — her family.
Williams, 34, was in high spirits as she made her way down the red carpet, amid calls of “Serena! Serena!” from photographers as she posed and addressed TV cameras.
After her family joined Venus on stage in introducing her (“I remember that little girl that would moon us,” joked Isha Price), Williams spoke for 10 minutes, thanking those around her and talking of the challenges she has worked through in her career on and off the court, quoting her favorite Maya Angelou poem to close.
She also took a shot — in good humor — at American Pharoah, the Triple Crown-winning horse that was considered for the magazine’s award.
“I’ve lived through tragedies and controversies and … horses,” Williams said, the room bursting into laughter. Then, turning serious: “This award makes me want to work harder … I want to achieve more goals.”
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who Williams is reportedly dating, sat at her family’s table and lingered after the awards portion was complete.
The only tears of the night came from Venus in her introduction of Serena.
“It’s been an honor to be your big sister,” she said, wiping at her eyes. “It’s the best job in the world.”
The 21-time major champion wore a floor-length backless and strapped black dress with a lace front.
“I liked the idea of the throne,” Williams told USA TODAY Sports of the Sports Illustrated cover. “I said, ‘Listen, this needs to be something that no one forgets, something iconic! I wanted it to be really special… really Serena.’ When we went with that, I loved it.”
Williams is the first single female athlete to win the award since 1983, and first active tennis player since Chris Evert in 1976. She also becomes the first African American female athlete to win the award.