This story was originally published on July 5, 2019.
Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver joins ESPN The Magazine’s screenplay series with a story that finds Serena Williams seeking entry into the mythical corridors of the best to ever do it. But can she overcome her foes, doubters and … Michael Jordan?
EXT. HALL OF GOATS — DAY
We float down on an imposing skyscraper in the middle of a grass field encircled by huge gold emblems of different balls (mind out of the gutter, please).
The murmur of voices in mild debate.
Listen, listennn! I’m not saying she shouldn’t be in! That’s not what I’m saying!
Premature how, fool?
Premature in that she’d be the youngest inductee ever, and oh, by the way, she’s STILL PLAYING??
An equal smattering of cheers and boos. Serena begins to speak and is interrupted.
I meeeaaann, MJ has a good point. You don’t see Federer in here yet.
Or LeBron, for that matter …
I’m gonna veto him just for Space Jam 2 … anyway, she doesn’t even have the most grand slams!
Ahem, I don’t think you should be using championships as a metric.
And even I wouldn’t make that argument, so let’s move on, shall we?
OK, fine, fine. I just think it’s important that we be smart about who we let in here.
Fewer boos than before. Serena begins to speak but is again interrupted.
I think we can all agree with that, and–
Cheryl Miller holds up her hand.
Excuse me, Barry, you are still under review and do not have speaking privileges. This should not be a daily reminder.
Barry Bonds sits down meekly. Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens snicker and point at him. Jackie Joyner-Kersee stands.
OK, look, I understand everything you naysayers are saying, but I have to push back with a simple question: What more does the woman have to do? Huh?
Some murmurs, Michael Jordan pauses for a moment, apparently lost in thought.
No? Nothing? That’s what I thought. Let’s vo–
Jordan is suddenly sitting bolt upright.
(Interrupting) The Champions Trial! The vote has to be unanimous and I’m not convinced. We have to use the trial.
There is murmuring and shocked expressions among the gathered GOATs.
The trial? We haven’t used that since we let him in here on a probationary status.
She shoots Bonds a withering look. He recedes deeper into his chair.
Listen, either we use the trial and she wins or I vote no and she’s out.
Even for you, this is petty. FINE.
Descending in spotlights from the ceiling, untethered to anything as if by magic, are a VR HEADSET, a RACKET, a large CINEMA SCREEN and a CONSOLE with buttons, joysticks, etc. The floating screen is behind Serena. The headset and racket hover in front of Serena, who grabs them with a knowing smirk. The console lands softly onto Jordan’s lap. He smiles. Jackie Joyner-Kersee rolls her eyes.
(To Serena) All right, girl, guess you gotta prove it again. (To her GOAT colleagues) Twenty years of excellence, you chumps! The disrespect …
Jordan hits the start button on the console and the screen comes to life. On it we see Serena, and on the far side of the court is MARTINA HINGIS, bouncing a ball and ready to serve. She tosses and strikes a blistering kick-out wide with enough spin to make your head … well, spin.
Serena pounces on it like a straight-up tigress protecting a cub and launches a rocket backhand down the line. As the ball bounces, the opponent magically transforms from Hingis into Serena’s sister, VENUS WILLIAMS, who swoops out to the sideline and hits the return with as much power.
In the Hall of GOATs, Jackie Joyner-Kersee stands.
Epic battles against her sister in nine, count ’em, NINE grand slam finals. And she won SEVEN!
Back on the screen, the Williams sisters trade groundstrokes like women possessed. The pace is supernaturally furious and beautiful. We see Venus transform into new players as Jackie Joyner-Kersee calls out their names. Serena sweats and looks overwhelmed but plays on. She moves from sideline to sideline, baseline to net and back.
JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE (V.O.)
Davenport! Sharapova! Jankovic! Wozniacki! Kerber! ALL SLAYED!
In the Hall we see MJ bent over his console. We enter his point of view and see him turn a dial labeled Trial Meter up from “Hall of Fame” to “Legend” to “GOAT.”
Back on the screen, a crying baby suddenly drops from the sky. Serena looks up, catches the baby and then bounds toward the baseline just in time to *ZAP* hit a return with a scorching one-handed backhand.
Serena calls to a ball boy, who tosses her a towel. She drapes it over her shoulder and in a miraculously deft maneuver begins breastfeeding the baby under the towel without missing a beat.
SMASH CUT to the Hall of GOATs: Babe Ruth and the other men avert their eyes.
Oh, NOW y’all don’t wanna look?! You fragile asses …
Jordan turns the dial from “GOAT” to “Not Human” to “All Galaxy.”
Back to the action as a breastfeeding Serena continues to play furiously against the morphing carousel of world-class players, when suddenly a TOUR OFFICIAL scurries onto the court with an attaché case.
(Tapping Serena on the shoulder) Pardon me, Miss Williams. I know it’s not the best timing, but they’re random.
Serena shoots him a “You have to be kidding me” look, sighs and sends the incoming forehand high into the STRATOSPHERE.
The tour official opens the case and retrieves a syringe, draws blood from Serena’s non-baby-holding arm, drops it into a vial and dips a strip in. Stares at it for a moment, squints.
(CONT’D) Mmmmm, I need a “B” sample.
Serena stares daggers and taps her foot as he draws more blood and does the process again. The morphing opponent stares up into the clouds, trying to find the ball.
(CONT’D) (Shrugging) She’s clean!
He scurries off the way he came. Serena puts baby Alexis into a crib at courtside and returns to the baseline as her lob finally descends into the opposite court.
We see Jordan’s hand turn the dial from “All Galaxy” to, finally, “Fam, is this personal?”
The still-morphing opponent hits a huge overhead smash that lands out of bounds, just by a few inches but clearly out. The CHAIR UMPIRE makes no call. Serena manages to stretch out and smack another sky-high defensive lob. She glances at the umpire incredulously.
(Interrupting) Warning, Miss Williams!
Serena is about to protest when the lob lands and Serena’s opponent closes in on the net to smack the ball crosscourt. Serena takes off and closes at astonishing speed. She arrives and, in SLO-MO, skidding on the court to stop herself, lets out a war cry, ripping the ball directly into the chest of the opponent, who shatters into a zillion pieces.
-BACK TO THE HALL-
Michael Jordan looks dumbfounded. Trails of smoke rise from the console in front of him. Jackie Joyner-Kersee smirks. Nods and smiles of approval from the rest of the GOATS.
I SAID: Twenty years of EXCELLENCE! Miss Serena, anything you’d like to add?
(Taking off the headset) Nope.
(Earnestly) I didn’t know a lady sport could be so exciting.
Zip it, Babe. We don’t actually have to vote since she SMASHED the trial, but I still want to hear it. All those in favor?
The Hall rings out with a resounding “Aye,” minus one voice.
(CONT’D) Michael Jeffrey Jordan!!!
(Humbled) … Aye.
The GOATs all cheer, Serena smiles and does her signature pirouette as the doors to the Hall of GOATs close shut … for today.