Meet Serena Williams: America’s Self-made Richest Woman

Serena Williams

This Serena Williams story appears in the Forbes Magazine. Subscribe

On Serena Williams’ calendar—which is to calendars what Jackson Pollock paintings are to art—Saturdays are designated family time. The Saturday I’m with her in Rome (she was in New York earlier in the week and will be in Paris the following one) carries extra significance. Exactly four years ago, in exactly that Eternal City, she met her husband, Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of online community Reddit.

The two celebrate, in part, with the kind of outing anyone who’s not the most famous woman athlete in the world takes for granted: a stroll in a hotel garden with their joint venture, 22-month-old Olympia, in tow. It’s more romantic than it sounds: The Rome Cavalieri goes so far as to call its 15-acre garden a “private park,” littered with marble and bronze, lions and unicorns.

The regal surroundings befit a historic figure of American sport, who has 23 Grand Slam titles and has blown away any number of barriers and stereotypes. And the unicorns? Between Reddit and his $500 million fund, Initialized Capital, Ohanian does his part. But it turns out that Williams has quietly been playing that game, too. She’s now the first athlete ever to hit Forbes’ annual list of the World’s Richest Self-Made Women, with an estimated fortune of $225 million, the vast majority of it having come via her brain and brand rather than her backhand. And over the past five years, she’s been quietly dropping money into 34 startups. In April, Williams formally announced that Serena Ventures is open for business, to fund others and launch companies herself.

Serena Williams

Athletes are richer than ever, thanks to the explosion in TV rights fees for live sporting events, which trickle down to players. The 50 highest-paid athletes in the world made $2.6 billion last year, versus $1 billion 15 years ago. And Williams is hardly the first to put newfound disposable income to active work—in the NBA alone, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have all launched media companies, and Durant, Andre Iguodala and Carmelo Anthony are active venture capital investors. But she is one of the few specifically gearing investments around a single north star: herself.

“I want to be a part of it,” she says, sitting at the hotel. “I want to be in the infrastructure. I want to be the brand, instead of just being the face.” Given her longtime background in style and design, that means overweighting on fashion lines, jewelry and beauty products. Yes, she’ll keep competing at tennis—her resilient comeback last year after giving birth burnished her as a cultural icon who transcends sports. And sure, she’ll happily continue to rake in easy endorsement money from the likes of Nike and JPMorgan Chase—her $29 million total income over the past 12 months is the highest of her career.

But like a ground stroke with torque, Williams bets she can eventually dwarf those figures by leveraging some of her own cash with her name and fame.


Trump tweets crack about LeBron James’ intelligence

Trump and Lebron James
President Donald Trump, in a few tweeted words, called LeBron James dumb Friday night.

Trump apparently was watching his favorite (and we use that word loosely) cable TV network, CNN, and came upon James being interviewed by anchor/reporter Don Lemon.

The president’s review?

That’s some NBA All-Star pettiness right there. And, yes, this is personal for 45.

Recall that James called Trump a “bum” in a 2017 tweet after Trump uninvited the NBA champion Warriors to the White House because Stephen Curry decided he wouldn’t attend.

During this year’s NBA Finals, James and Curry made it clear the Cavs and Warriors didn’t want to be invited to the White House for winning. Trump responded by saying no invite would be coming.

Most recently, James told Lemon in his interview, which aired Monday (four days before Trump’s tweet) that the president is using sports to divide Americans.

Trump’s Twitter elbow landed the same week James opened a school in his hometown, Akron, Ohio.

That’s some kind of a 3-pointer, Mr. President.


LeBron James’s $8m Public School, Where Students get Free Bikes, Meals, Tuition

Lebron James

Basketball star Lebron James, who briefly split the Internet asunder with his recent choice to depart the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers, has made sure to leave something behind in Ohio: a public school for at-risk students.

James knows what it’s like to be an at-risk student himself. As a fourth grader, he says, he missed 83 days of school while he and his mother moved from one couch or spare room to the next. He credits mentors, some of whom he met at school, with a turnaround that helped him attend every day of fifth grade — which was also the first year he played organized basketball.

Now, 240 third- and fourth-graders will make up the inaugural class at the I Promise School, which opened this week in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio.

The unusual school is a public school formed in collaboration between James’ philanthropic foundation and Akron Public Schools. Its out-of-the-box offerings include a long school day (eight hours); a “support circle” for students after lunch; and GED courses and job placement for parents. All are driven by James’ mission to help kids overcome what he faced as a low-income student in Akron, he says.

James, who has won three NBA championships and four league-MVPs, called the school opening the greatest moment of his career.

“Walking these hallways and seeing, when I was driving here, just the streets that I walked, some of the stores are still up when I was growing up,” he told ESPN. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget — and hopefully the kids, starting with the 240 kids that we have going in here right now starting today, will never forget it, either.”

Here’s everything you need to know about Lebron James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio.

How to Get Into Lebron James’ I Promise School

The school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance. “We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria, and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School,’” Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation, told USA Today.

The school is launching with third- and fourth-graders, but plans to add grades each year until it houses first through eighth grade in 2022.

What’s Special About Lebron James’ I Promise School?

Forty-three staffers will help run the I Promise School — including not just teachers but also a principal, assistant principal, four intervention specialists, plus a tutor, English as a second language teacher, music instructor, and gym teacher, USA Today reports. Classrooms will hold 20 students per teacher.

The most unique feature of the school may be the most ordinary: it’s a traditional public school. Celebrities often back charter schools, like the Harlem academy founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs and the Detroit charter named after former NBA player and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. Or they open unorthodox private schools — think Elon Musk’s 40-student school, situated in a conference room at Space X, where kids play with flamethrowers.

James made a point of giving Akron a new public school. “It’s not a charter school, it’s not a private school, it’s a real-life school in my hometown,” he told ESPN. “And this is pretty cool.”

That said, the school is far from traditional. Its lengthy school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with an extended school year that runs from July through May. During a seven-week summer session, the school will provide STEM-based camps. Students will spend time each day on social-emotional learning, and participate in a “supportive circle” after lunch aimed at helping them refocus on work, reports.

Nutrition is also central to the school’s mission. Every day students will receive free breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. They will have access to a fitness trainer. James says that, as a kid, he used his bicycle to explore different neighborhoods of Akron — so he gave one to every incoming student.

Since the school considers education to be not just for the pupil but for the whole family, it will offer GED classes and job placement assistance for parents and guardians. “It is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion,” Brandi Davis, I Promise principal and Akron native, told USA Today.

Students get one other notable benefit: If they successfully complete the school program and graduate from high school, James will cover their full tuition at the local public college, University of Akron.

The Akron school district expects to spend a total of $8.1 million over the next five years for the I Promise school, according to a report in Akron’s Beacon Journal. James’ family foundation will cover the costs of other extra school features, and with its partners has already contributed $2 million for building upgrades, extra staffing and other needs, the paper notes.

James Praised by Celebrities and NBA Players

Stephen Curry, Warriors guard and on-court rival of James, greeted the opening of the school with a two-word exclamation: “Freaking Amazing!”

Fellow NBA superstars Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade lauded the opening. “Proud of you for chasing your dreams and in turn, giving the opportunity to hundreds of kids to realize theirs,” Paul tweeted.

Other prominent figures weighed in as well. The musician Common tweeted a video of a young male student marveling at the school’s interior. “The look on this boys face as he enters the school says it all,” Common wrote. “Love.”

And CNN contributor Ana Navarro noted, “The same guy some folks suggested should, ‘shut-up and dribble.’ Instead, he put-up and gave back to at-risk kids.”

James, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be giving up on his Ohio roots.

“I don’t have a ceiling to how much I can improve my game,” he told ESPN. “And we as a foundation don’t have a ceiling on how much we can improve our community, to a point where we have a school.”