Billie Jean King
Former World No. 1 professional tennis player, founder of the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation
"Billie Jean King is an American former World No. 1 professional tennis player. King won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. King won the singles title at the inaugural WTA Tour Championships. King often represented the United States in the Federation Cup and the Wightman Cup. She was a member of the victorious United States team in seven Federation Cups and nine Wightman Cups. For three years, King was the United States' captain in the Federation Cup.
King is an advocate for gender equality and has long been a pioneer for equality and social justice. In 1973, at age 29, she won the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match against the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs. King was also the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation.
Regarded by many in the sport as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. The Fed Cup Award of Excellence was bestowed on King in 2010. In 1972, King was the joint winner, with John Wooden, of the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award and was one of the Time Persons of the Year in 1975. King has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year lifetime achievement award. King was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center in New York City was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
King's triumph at the French Open in 1972 made her only the fifth woman in tennis history to win the singles titles at all four Grand Slam events, a "career Grand Slam." King also won a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. In women's doubles, only the Australian Open eluded her.
King won a record 20 career titles at Wimbledon – six in singles, 10 in women's doubles, and four in mixed doubles.
King played 51 Grand Slam singles events from 1959 through 1983, reaching at least the semifinals in 27 and at least the quarterfinals in 40 of her attempts. King was the runner-up in six Grand Slam singles events. An indicator of King's mental toughness in Grand Slam singles tournaments was her 11–2 career record in deuce third sets, i.e., third sets that were tied 5–5 before being resolved.
King won 129 singles titles, 78 of which were WTA titles, and her career prize money totaled US$1,966,487.
In Federation Cup finals, King was on the winning United States team seven times, in 1963, 1966, 1967, and 1976 through 1979. Her career win–loss record was 52–4. She won the last 30 matches she played, including 15 straight wins in both singles and doubles. In Wightman Cup competition, King's career win–loss record was 22–4, winning her last nine matches. The United States won the cup ten of the 11 years that King participated. In singles, King was 6–1 against Ann Haydon-Jones, 4–0 against Virginia Wade, and 1–1 against Christine Truman Janes…
From 1966 through 1975, King won 32 of her career 39 Grand Slam titles, including all 12 of her Grand Slam singles titles, nine of her 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 10 of her 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles… King was the year-ending World No. 1 in six of the ten years from 1966 through 1975. She was the year-ending World No. 2 in three of those years and the World No. 3 in the other year. King won 97 of her career 129 singles titles during this period and was the runner-up in 36 other tournaments...
In 1973, King defeated Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match, winning $100,000. Riggs had been a top men's player in the 1930s and 1940s in both the amateur and professional ranks. He won the Wimbledon men's singles title in 1939, and was considered the World No. 1 male tennis player for 1941, 1946, and 1947. He then became a self-described tennis "hustler" who played in promotional challenge matches. In 1973, he took on the role of male chauvinist. Claiming that the women's game was so inferior to the men's game that even a 55-year-old like himself could beat the current top female players, he challenged and defeated Margaret Court 6–2, 6–1. King, who previously had rejected challenges from Riggs, then accepted a lucrative financial offer to play him for $100,000, winner-take-all. Dubbed "the Battle of the Sexes", the Riggs-King match took place at the Houston Astrodome in Texas on September 20, 1973. The match garnered huge publicity. In front of 30,492 spectators and a television audience estimated at 50 million people (U.S.), and 90 million in 37 countries, 29-year-old King beat the 55-year-old Riggs 6–4, 6–3, 6–3. The match is considered a very significant event in developing greater recognition and respect for women's tennis. King said, "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match. It would ruin the women's [tennis] tour and affect all women's self-esteem," and that "To beat a 55-year-old guy was no thrill for me. The thrill was exposing a lot of new people to tennis…”
When the open era began, King campaigned for equal prize money in the men's and women's games. In 1971, with ideas for the formation of an eight player women's group from her husband, Larry King, financial backing of World Tennis magazine founder, Gladys Heldman, and the sponsorship of Virginia Slims Chairman Joe Coleman, King became the first woman athlete to earn over US$100,000 in prize money; however, inequalities continued. King won the US Open in 1972 but received US$15,000 less than the men's champion Ilie Năstase. She stated that she would not play the next year if the prize money were not equal. In 1973, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.
King led player efforts to support the first professional women's tennis tour in the 1970s called the Virginia Slims, founded by Gladys Heldman and funded by Joseph Cullman of Philip Morris. Once the tour took flight, King worked tirelessly to promote it even though many of the other top players were not supportive. "For three years we had two tours and because of their governments [Martina] Navratilova and Olga Morozova had to play the other tour. Chris [Evert], Margaret [Court], Virginia [Wade], they let us do the pioneering work and they weren't very nice to us. If you go back and look at the old quotes; they played for the love of the game, we played for the money. When we got backing and money, we were all playing together – I wonder why? I tried not to get upset with them. Forgiveness is important. Our job was to have one voice and win them over."
In 1973, King became the first President of the women's players union – the Women's Tennis Association. In 1974, she, with husband Larry King and Jim Jorgensen, founded womenSports magazine and started the Women's Sports Foundation. Also in 1974, World TeamTennis began, founded by Larry King, Dennis Murphy, Frank Barman and Jordan Kaiser. She became league commissioner in 1982 and major owner in 1984.
King is a member of the Board of Honorary Trustees for the Sports Museum of America, which opened in 2008. The museum is the home of the Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center, a comprehensive women's sports hall of fame and exhibit.
In December 2013, US President Barack Obama appointed King and openly gay ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This has been interpreted as a signal on gay rights, in the context of concerns and controversies at the 2014 Winter Olympics regarding LGBT rights in Russia. King was forced to drop out of the delegation due to her mother's ill health. Betty Moffitt, King's mother, died on February 7, 2014, the day of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies.
Margaret Court, who won more Grand Slam titles than anyone, has said that King was "the greatest competitor I've ever known". Chris Evert, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, has said, "She's the wisest human being that I've ever met and has vision people can only dream about. Billie Jean King is my mentor and has given me advice about my tennis and my boyfriends. On dealing with my parents and even how to raise children. And she doesn't have any." In 1979, several top players were asked who they would pick to help them recover from a hypothetical deficit of 1–5 (15–40) in the third set of a match on Wimbledon's Centre Court. Martina Navratilova, Rosemary Casals, and Françoise Dürr all picked King. Navratilova said, "I would have to pick Billie Jean at her best. Consistently, Chris [Evert] is hardest to beat but for one big occasion, one big match, one crucial point, yes, it would have to be Billie Jean." Casals said, "No matter how far down you got her, you never could be sure of beating her."
Awards and honors
King was the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1967.
In 1972, King became the first tennis player to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. She was also the first female athlete ever to receive that honor.
In 1975, Seventeen magazine found that King was the most admired woman in the world from a poll of its readers. Golda Meir, who had been Israel's prime minister until the previous year, finished second. In a May 19, 1975, Sports Illustrated article about King, Frank Deford noted that she had become something of a sex symbol.
King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
Life magazine in 1990 named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century".
King was the recipient of the 1999 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
In 1999 King was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.
In 2000, King received an award from GLAAD, an organization devoted to reducing discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, for "furthering the visibility and inclusion of the community in her work".
In 2006, the Women's Sports Foundation began to sponsor the Billie Awards, which are named after and hosted by King.
In 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver inducted King into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.
On November 20, 2007, King was presented with the 2007 Sunday Times Sports Women of the Year Lifetime Achievement award for her contribution to sport both on and off the court.
She was honored by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President in March 2008 and was included in a map of historical sites related or dedicated to important women.
On August 12, 2009, President Barack Obama awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work advocating for the rights of women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
On August 2, 2013, King was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2014, she was named one of ESPNW's Impact 25.
King was shown in Marie Claire magazine's "The 8 Greatest Moments for Women in Sports"." (1)