After Sheryl Sandberg, the bestselling author of Lean In and chief operating officer of Facebook, lost her husband in May, she found a friend in Serena Williams.
Sandberg’s husband, tech executive Dave Goldberg, died at 47 from heart trauma during a family vacation in Mexico. Sandberg mourned publicly after Goldberg’s death, posting a personal message on Facebook a month after her husband’s death.
Privately, Sandberg received support from Williams.
As Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price details in his Sportsperson of the Year cover story on Williams, the tennis star met Sandberg in December 2014 after Williams read Lean In. The pair dined together in Florida, accompanied by Goldberg.
A few months later, when Goldberg died, Williams reached out privately to Sandberg, offering her condolences.
“I just kept getting these messages from Serena, literally every couple of days—for months,” Sandberg told Price. “Texts, messages, voice mails. She would write, ‘You have all my strength’ or ‘You are the strongest woman I know. You will get through this.’’
Sandberg told Price that Williams helped carry her through the grieving process.
“For Serena Williams to say, ‘You have all my strength’? God, when you’re like where I was after Dave died, that feels like a lot of strength,” Sandberg said. “I would get that text and look at it, and would feel pretty emotional—like I am now. I would feel like she was carrying me.”
Williams also talked to Sandberg about a family tragedy of her own: In 2003, Williams’s oldest sister, Yetunde Price, was killed in a drive-by shooting.
The friendship between Williams and Sandberg continued to blossom as autumn approached. Williams put Sandberg’s children, ages 10 and eight, to bed on multiple occasions. She even told them about her experience with racism at Indian Wells, where Williams returned this year for the first time since 2001.
For more on Williams, read Price's full cover story.
- Stanley Kay