What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

Serena displays stretches of power and precision

‘It’s incredible,’ she said of her return to competitive singles

11:19 AMThere was a loud roar as Serena Williams walked onto the main stadium court at the BNP Paribas Open, wearing a bulky black jacket and black tights. As her match against Zarina Diyas was about to begin, Williams shed her outerwear to reveal two arm sleeves, an early indicator that the visual gun show that usually intimidates opponents would not be on display.

For a moment, the best women’s player in the history of tennis displayed rare vulnerability.

For half a set, Williams appeared tight.

But in her first competitive singles match in more than a year, Williams eventually settled into a comfort zone on the way to a satisfying 7-5, 6-3 win over Diyas to advance to the second round of the tournament.

To say Williams is back would be a rush to judgment for the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, who was playing her first competitive singles match since winning the 2017 Australian Open title last January.

But she’s a lot further along than anyone who saw her play Fed Cup doubles a month ago could have anticipated.

Williams was sluggish then, surviving conditioning that was not ready for prime time as she played alongside her sister Venus.

From that doubles match, you might have pegged Williams’ return to Grand Slam form sometime next year.

Based on the promise she showed on Thursday night, that timeline might have to be adjusted.

Thursday we gave you a few things to watch in Williams’ return. Here’s how she did:

Her lateral movement was surprisingly good.

Her stamina appeared to get better as the match progressed, and she won several long points.

Her inner drive was on display as she had to dig deep and fight fatigue on a few occasions. There were several rough stretches early in the first set where you might have thought that it would be easier for Williams to ease out of the match quietly and begin focus on her next tournament.

But she recovered from those moments to display stretches of power and precision that left you thinking that she might be back to competitive form later this year.

Her focus was solid as Williams, with the exception of a few displays of emotion, maintained her cool for much of the night.

“It was incredible,” Williams said during her post-match interview. “It’s been over a year, and a kid later.”

Next up for Williams: a Saturday match against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, the No. 29 player in the world.

Michael Bennett couldn’t have landed in a better spot

He joins Eagles players who have been active in trying to make a difference in their communities

5:44 PMIn a major NFL move Wednesday, the Seattle Seahawks traded veteran defensive end Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the on-field implications are clear: Seattle signaled that its championship window has closed with this iteration of its roster, and the reigning Super Bowl winner has gone all in to defend its first Super Bowl title.

The productive Bennett, 32, just completed his ninth season, finishing with 8.5 sacks and 40 tackles. For the third time in the past four seasons, the three-time Pro Bowler started every game. The Eagles, who cannot officially announce the trade until the league year begins on March 14, are counting on Bennett to deliver consistently off the edge again as they try to repeat.

That’s the football stuff. Now, here’s the rest of the story: The most socially conscious team in the NFL just got more socially conscious.

A leader in sports’ new civil rights movement, Bennett has been at the forefront of demonstrations during the national anthem to shine a light on racial injustice. Through his foundation, Bennett — whose brother, tight end Martellus, was just released by the New England Patriots — works to fight obesity and educate children in the United States, Ghana and Senegal.

With his outlook on the world, Bennett couldn’t have landed in a better spot. His first tweet since the trade was about jailed rapper Meek Mill.

Many Eagles players also have been active in trying to make a difference in their communities. And safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive end Chris Long and wide receiver Torrey Smith, through their work with the Players Coalition, the main group of players who protested during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” have been as active as Bennett in trying to effect positive social change. Don’t be surprised if Bennett teams with his new teammates on some major projects.

Barring injury, Bennett should bolster the Eagles as they attempt to make another championship run. On the field, he’s exactly the type of player they need. And off it, Bennett figures to still deliver.

Beyoncé protégés Chloe x Halle to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ at WrestleMania

It’s the first time a duo will perform the song in company history

5:28 PMWWE announced on Monday that teenage rhythm and blues sister duo Chloe x Halle will sing “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania on April 8 in New Orleans, marking the first time in company history the song will be performed as a duet.

The sisters, Chloe Bailey, 19, and Halle Bailey, 17, burst onto the scene six years ago after their YouTube covers of Beyoncé songs, including “Best Thing I Never Had” and “Pretty Hurts” caught the eye of the worldwide superstar. In 2015, Beyoncé signed the duo to her Parkwood Entertainment management and entertainment company.

Since that time, Chloe x Halle have released a mixtape, 2017’s The Two Of Us, and currently star on Freeform’s grown-ish with Yara Shahidi (black-ish). Last month, the pair announced that their debut album The Kids Are Alright will be released on March 23.

The sisters join Ray Charles, John Legend, Aretha Franklin and last year’s performer, Tinashe, in singing “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania, World Wrestling Entertainment’s largest event of the year.

“Chloe x Halle are a dynamic sister duo, known for their angelic voices and soulful performances,” WWE senior vice president and general manager Neil Lawi said in a statement.

Some WWE fans, showing their excitement and love for America, responded to the company’s tweet about the announcement by calling the selection “diverse,” predicting this moment as the “restroom break.” There also were wide variations of “who?”

How Kobe Bryant celebrated his Oscar win

The NBA superstar partied with ‘Vanity Fair’ and hung out with Jay-Z and Beyoncé

5:48 PM 

Kobe Bryant could have had his first big Hollywood moment 20 years ago.

It was Black Mamba, after all, whom director Spike Lee pegged as Jesus Shuttlesworth in his 1998 film He Got Game. Bryant was all set to play the basketball phenom, the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington’s incarcerated Jake Shuttlesworth. But he changed his mind before they started filming in 1997. The role ultimately ended up going to Ray Allen.

But Bryant’s become a Hollywood star in his own way. Sunday night, of course, he won an Oscar for best animated short film for Dear Basketball, his retirement letter. From there, the five-time NBA world champion took his statuette to the Vanity Fair party along with revelers such as Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Christopher Walken, Donald Glover and Matt Bomer. Also in attendance at the magazine’s annual bash were rapper Drake, Oscar nominee Mary J. Blige, Sean Combs, Naomi Campbell, and Olympians Gus Kenworthy, Adam Rippon and Lindsey Vonn.

Bryant later headed over to West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, where Jay-Z and Beyoncé were throwing a private party honoring Blige’s Oscar moment. Of the 150-plus in attendance were Tracee Ellis Ross, Drake, Tiffany Haddish, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Mindy Kaling, BJ Novak, Shonda Rhimes, Whoopi Goldberg, Usher, DJ Khaled, Oscar winner Jordan Peele and Angela Bassett — all of whom received invites instructing them that there would be “No sitting, only dancing.”

At the West Hollywood hot spot — which, under normal circumstances, is crawling with celebrities — there was a casino setup, and at around midnight, Joe’s Pizza made a huge delivery. Bryant said a week earlier that he doesn’t regret just now getting his big Hollywood moment — he’s not an in-front-of-the-camera type.

“I’m not the most patient of a person,” he said. “When you look at actors … and the downtime involved … it’s just too much for me. I was 17 at the time, and I wanted to … play ball. I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to work out and train all the time. There was also a lot of pressure on me coming out of high school to perform well. I needed all my resources dedicated to preparing myself for the season.”

He says he loves the art of creating. “It’s like putting together a puzzle,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”

Oscars 2018: Jordan Peele nets history-making Academy Award for best original screenplay for ‘Get Out’

He’s the first black person to win the award

11:11 PMActor, writer and director Jordan Peele has a new title for himself: Academy Award-winning screenwriter.

Actually, it’s history-making, Academy Award-winning screenwriter. He’s the first black person to win the award for original screenplay.

“I stopped writing this film about 20 times because I thought it was impossible,” Peele said during his acceptance speech, figuring that no one would let him make a film where the black hero violently kills a bunch of white people. (They totally had it coming, by the way.)

Peele dedicated his Oscar to his mother, “who taught me to love in the face of hate,” he said.

At publishing time, the Oscars for best picture, best director or best actor, the other categories for which Get Out netted nominations, had not been announced yet. Peele still has the opportunity to make history again. He’s only the fifth black man in the 90-year history of the Oscars to be nominated for best director. The other four are John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins.

Serena Williams debuts new Nike campaign in time for International Women’s Day

‘There is no wrong way to be a woman’

10:45 PM“I’ve never been the ‘right’ kind of woman.” Those are the first words Serena Williams says in a personal and powerful new ad that debuted during the Academy Awards. It’s called Until We All Win, and it works as a timely autobiographical project.

“I want my daughter to be truthful and honest, strong and powerful,” Williams says in a statement, “to realize that she can impact those around her. I want her to grow up knowing a woman’s voice is extremely powerful.”

Amy Montagne, vice president and general manager, Nike Women, reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the voices and the power of women athletes. “Nike has always believed in the inspirational power of sport to break down barriers,” said Montagne, “[to] overcome differences and bring people together … we are always listening to the voices of our athletes, and for International Women’s Day, we wanted to highlight Serena’s voice in particular as we feel she is an inspiration for women and girls, and continues to break down barriers both on and off the court.”

Until we all win, indeed.

Oscars 2018: Kobe Bryant’s win exposes the limits of #TimesUp

NBA great wins an Academy Award for best animated short film

10:33 PMIf anything demonstrates the limits of #TimesUp and our collective ability to process allegations of sexual assault and what to do with them, it’s Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar for Dear Basketball.

On Sunday night, Bryant, who wrote and starred in the animated short film, ascended to the stage with director Glen Keane to accept his award.

#TimesUp and #MeToo were industry-shaking movements that have brought real change to the way we discuss sexual harassment and assault. They’ve helped bring about the resignation of a sitting U.S. senator and multiple elected officials. The movements even had an impact on who appeared on the stage at the Oscars. Casey Affleck, who was accused of sexual harassment, declined to present the Oscar for best actress, breaking with tradition. Affleck won the Oscar for best actor in 2017 for Manchester by the Sea. Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence were tapped to present in his stead.

But as much as Hollywood talks about cleaning up its own ranks, going so far as to kick alleged serial predator Harvey Weinstein out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an accusation of sexual assault from 2003 was not enough to prevent academy voters from honoring Bryant and his film. (After lengthy pretrial maneuvering, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, prosecutors in Colorado dropped charges against Bryant after the woman who had accused him of sexual assault decided she was unwilling to testify.)

On the night where the movement was clearly visible, whether through “Time’s Up” pins or mentions by Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel, Bryant’s win leaves a big question: Has change truly swept through Hollywood?

See The Undefeated’s Kelley Carter interview Bryant here.