By  on December 22, 2000

NEW YORK -- At Reebok, it's all about Venus.

At 20 years old, tennis star Venus Williams has landed what is believed to be the largest endorsement package ever awarded to a female athlete. Her new contract with Reebok is reportedly a $40 million, five-year deal, and one that sets her up as the brand's poster child for global advertising and a part-time designer with a signature line in the works.

Williams, along with Angel Martinez, chief marketing officer, and Sharon Barbano, group director of the women's business for Reebok, discussed their new venture Thursday at The Reebok Sports Club. Leslie Allen Seymour, a pioneer African American elite tennis player, and Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation were also on hand to celebrate, and tennis legend Billie Jean King phoned in her congratulations.

All in all, a good day for Williams.

"This is a big moment in my life. It's part of the journey for women, for people of color and for my whole family," she said. "It's just great. My life has been one dream come true after another."

King, who coaches Williams and her younger sister, Serena, for World Team Tennis, said, "She loves fashion -- I can tell you that. Whoa! Talk about designing fashion all the time."

In fact, it was fashion that kept the Williams sisters from the Federal Cup. As students at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, the pair had to take their final exams.

But Venus Williams told King they tuned in to the Cup on TV while they were doing their homework.

"I waited until the last minute, so I had to get my mom to help. She was helping me and Serena. It was like an assembly line," Williams said.

For Thursday's occasion, she let down her signature braids and wore a black cap-sleeve Reebok top and skintight black pants. Looking more like a recording artist than a Wimbledon champion, the attire was on the mark -- considering Reebok's aim.

"Our goal is not to show Venus playing tennis because the world will show that. We want to show her as a lifestyle icon," Martinez said. "We made the decision that there is no better athlete in the world to represent our brand."

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