Wednesday, Sports Illustrated honored Serena Williams, presenting her with the Sportsperson of the Year Award at a ceremony in NYC. Williams accepted the award after emotional tributes from here mother and three sisters. Touched, she talked about battling adversity from an early age and fighting through some of the most challenging physical obstacles of her career for a record year. She also spoke in depth about inspiring other women by winning this award even managed to respond to the American Pharoah fans, saying, “I’ve lived through tragedies and controversies and horses.”
The evening saw surprise guest Will Smith tribute the legacy of Muhammad Ali, with a raucous speech that included an impersonation of Ali and a heartfelt dedication to “The Greatest.” Smith was on hand as part of the first ever Muhammad Ali Legacy Award presentation to legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus. Lonnie Alipresented the award to Nicklaus who spoke glowingly about Muhammad Ali and his own wife and family, the inspiration behind his philanthropic devotion to children. Nicklaus and Serena also appeared on stage together, with the celebrated golfer praising her work ethic and competitive drive.
Also honored was the 2015 SI Kids SportsKid of the Year and Olympic hopeful swimmer, Reece Whitley. During the ceremony, Whitley was called out by fellow Philadelphian Will Smith, who left the stage to give him a hug and said, “It’s me and him, and Rocky.”
Stealing the show was Hunter Gandee, the SI High School Athlete of the Year Award who carried his younger brother to the stage and held him during his acceptance speech. His brother Braden suffers from Cerebal Palsy and Hunter was chosen by Sports Illustrated as a result of his dedication to raising awareness and bettering the lives of those suffering from the condition.
The awards ceremony took place on December 15 at the Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers in front of a crowd of 400 VIPs with football great “Boomer” Esiason as master of ceremonies. Guests enjoyed custom cocktails featuring Johnnie Walker Black Label along with special tastings neat or on the rocks from the Johnnie Walker Trunk Show experience such as Platinum Label and Blue Label.
Highlights from Serena Williams’s Acceptance Speech:
“I’ve had people look down on me because I don’t look like them. I look stronger.”
“For all the ladies out there, yes we can do it … My hope [that] by winning this award [I] can inspire many many many more women.”
“I said I wanted to win Wimbledon because Venus said she wanted to win Wimbledon and my dad yelled at me, he’s like ‘Serena stop copying Venus’…so then I said I wanted to win the US Open…and so that’s how that kind of came about”.
“I still have goals and I still have dreams of winning and this award makes me actually want to work harder to reach more goals.”
“I’ve had my shares of ups and downs I’ve had many struggles…I’ve lived through tragedies and controversies and horses.
Will Smith on Muhammad Ali: “What I learned about the word ‘legacy’ is that it extends far beyond our professional accomplishments, it extends far beyond our accolades. Muhammad Ali is a champion for civil rights, he’s a champion in the fight against injustice, he’s a champion for utilizing whatever tools he has to make the world a better place. And that is why Sports Illustrated is renaming this award – it will now, and forever, stand for the true definition of greatness.”
For more on the Sportsperson of the Year Award: SI.com/sportsperson