In A Different World, Love & Basketball Could've Starred Serena Williams

In August 2022, tennis superstar and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams announced plans to evolve from the sport she loved her whole life (she doesn't like the word retirement). The following month, a third-round loss at the US Open essentially ended her illustrious career ... until she eventually (fingers crossed) pulls a Michael Jordan.

In a post-match interview with "CBS This Morning" anchor Gayle King, Williams said the next chapter of her life would be "Serena 2.0," and she would "still be around." Could that new version of the tennis champ send her to Hollywood? After all, she grew up just around the corner in Compton, California. In 2021 she signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios to create scripted and unscripted TV content and received an executive producer credit on "King Richard," the biopic about her father's influence on her and her sister Venus Williams' careers.

Frankly, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of us seeing Serena Williams in front of the camera either. Since her rise to superstardom, the tennis legend has made many guest and cameo appearances, including on the TV shows "My Wife and Kids," "ER," and "The Game," as well as the heist sequel "Ocean's 8." But her jump to Hollywood could've happened much earlier. In a different world, Serena Williams would've starred in the 2000 romantic sports drama "Love & Basketball."

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood wanted Serena Williams to play Monica

In "Love & Basketball," Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) pursues her childhood dream of being the first woman in the NBA. The movie is set predominately in the '80s and early '90s, before the WNBA even existed , which may explain Monica's ambition to compete with the top male basketball players in the world. Monica has what the late, great Kobe Bryant would call "Mamba Mentality." Her fierce, competitive spirit drives her to be the best player on the court regardless of gender. This mindset, however, is mistaken for a bad attitude and is condemned as un-ladylike.

Her commitment to hoops becomes even more complicated when she enters a relationship with her childhood friend, next-door neighbor, and fellow basketball superstar Quincy "Q" McCall (Omar Epps). Suddenly, Monica struggles to find balance between being a supportive girlfriend and a successful ballplayer.

"Love & Basketball" was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood in her directorial debut. The script was personal, as she explained to the LA Times in 2020 that she wanted to tell a "semi-autobiographical story ... about a black girl who wanted to be the first girl in the NBA." Prince-Bythewood played basketball in high school and ran track at UCLA, and because of the personal connection to the story, she initially desired for a real athlete to play Monica. One athlete she had on her radar was Serena Williams.  "I [wanted to] read Serena Williams," Prince-Bythewood told the HuffPost in 2015. Though the film's casting director reached out to Williams, she was unavailable for the role.

Could Serena have pulled it off?

It's easy to see why Serena Williams wasn't available for what could have been a breakthrough role. She had her breakout year in tennis in 1999, winning her first of 23 Grand Slam titles at just 17 years old. Williams likely also has that "Mamba Mentality," and she was likely more focused on dominating the tennis court. But Gina Prince-Bythewood's revelation raises the question: would Serena Williams have been a good Monica?

For me, "Love & Basketball" was a childhood go-to. It's one of those movies I know from scene to scene. Not only did the movie make me dream of being a basketball player, but it also made me yearn for a girlfriend who was also a ballplayer. (Don't laugh me!) Even in adulthood, the movie has stayed with me. When I decided to venture into screenwriting in 2020, I used the screenplay for "Love & Basketball" as a guide to write my first feature screenplay, which later placed in the Austin Film Festival. (Sorry to brag, but I'm proud!)

I say all of that to say, I wouldn't change a single thing about that movie. I love Serena Williams, but I bet even she would agree the chemistry between Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps was unmatched. It's no surprise that the two were secretly dating during production, as Prince-Bythewood revealed to Buzzfeed in 2015

"I think if I had known, I don't know if I would have taken that risk. When people are dating or married, a lot of times they don't have chemistry on screen. What if they break up midway through shooting? But they were hot. There was this sweetness between them. And I just wanted to watch them." 

Thankfully, so did the rest of us.