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Billie Jean King

Champions Women's Rights

King took a stand on the red-hot issue of abortion, when in 1971 she admitted to having had one. Despite the highly personal revelation, she felt defensive about publicity regarding hers and her husband's private life.

Awards and Accomplishments

1958 Southern California Junior champion
1961 Wimbledon doubles champion with Karen Hantze; enrolls in Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences
1966 Wimbledon singles, U.S. indoor singles, and U.S. hard-court and indoor doubles tournaments (with Rosemary Casals) champion
1967 U.S. singles champion; Wimbledon singles champion and doubles champion (with Casals), U.S. Open, and South Africa champion; French mixed doubles champion; awarded Woman Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press
1968 U.S. singles champion; Wimbledon singles and doubles champion (with Casals); Australian singles and mixed doubles champion; U.S. indoor doubles champion
1970 Wimbledon doubles champion (with Casals); French mixed doubles champion; Italian singles and doubles champion; Wightman Cup
1971 U.S. singles and mixed doubles champion; Wimbledon doubles and mixed doubles champion
1971 First female athlete to earn $100,000 in prize money
1972 Named first Sportswoman of the Year by Sports Illustrated; "Tennis Player of the Year" by Sports magazine; U.S. doubles champion; Wimbledon singles and doubles champion (with Betty Stove); French singles and doubles champion
1973 Wins Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs; U.S. mixed doubles champion; Wimbledon singles, doubles (with Casals), and mixed doubles champion
1973-75, 1980-81 President, Women's Tennis Association, which she co-founds
1974 U.S. singles and doubles champion; Wimbledon mixed doubles champion; plays World Team Tennis for Philadelphia Freedoms; first woman to coach a professional team (Philadelphia Freedoms)
1975 Wimbledon singles champion; announces partial retirement
1975-78 Plays World Team Tennis for New York Sets/Apples
1976 U.S. mixed doubles champion; captain of Federation Cup team; named Woman of the Year by Time magazine
1977 Wightman Cup
1978 U.S. doubles champion
1979 Wimbledon doubles champion with Martina Navratilova, breaking the record for most career wins at Wimbledon; Wightman Cup
1980 U.S. doubles champion
1981 Plays World Team Tennis for Oakland Breakers; is sued by Marlyn Barnett, leading to publicity about her sexuality
1982 Plays World Team Tennis for Los Angeles Strings
1984 First woman commissioner (World Team Tennis) in professional sports history
1987 Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame
1990 Listed as one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" by Life magazine; inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame
1994 Ranked No. 5 in Sports Illustrated's "Top 40 Athletes" for significantly altering/elevating sports the last four decades
1997 Named one of the "Ten Most Powerful Women in America" by Harper's Bazaar magazine; named one of the "Twenty-five Most Influential Women in America" by World Almanac
1998 First athlete to receive the Elizabeth Blackwell Award, given by Hobart and William Smith College to a woman whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity
1999 Wins the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for her fight to bring equality to women's sports 2002 Receives the Radcliffe Medal, awarded annually to a person whose life and work has significantly improved society

In 1972 she won the French Open and Wimbledon singles, ending a three-year drought in the latter. She also won her third U.S. Open singles title, which awarded her $10,000. Nastase, the men's singles champion, won $25,000. King was irate. It was hardly the first time she recognized prize-money disparity, but it was the last time she would remain quiet about it. When she complained to the U.S. tennis establishment, she was told that men were paid more because few people watch women's tennis. But King insisted women's tennis enjoyed many enthusiastic fans. In fact, when Hyams interviewed King in 1975 in a hotel coffee shop, he says they were interrupted half a dozen times by autograph seekers, mostly men.

King continued to sweep up Grand Slam titles and break ground for her sport. Fed up with the tennis establishment's attitude and lack of financial commitment to women's tennis, she took action. After she and a small group of other players refused to play a tournament where the women's prize money was one eighth of the men's, King organized the first women's-only professional tennis tournament. When the nine defectors were threatened with suspension by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), King, with the help of World Tennis magazine founder Gladys Heldman, put together their own prize money. The nine players all agreed to accept a $1 contract from Heldman, who secured sponsorship from Philip Morris Company just as it was to target a new cigarette, Virginia Slims, to women. Thus the Virginia Slims Championships were launched in Houston. By 1973 the tour covered 22 cities and had $775,000 in prize money. After its 1994 season, the Slims became the Women's International Tennis Association Tour Championship.

In 1973 King was elected first president of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), a players' union. She also created "team tennis," America's only professional co-ed team sport, and became the first woman to coach a professional co-ed team when she signed on with the Philadelphia Freedoms. But she cemented her status as a heroine of the women's movement with her match against Bobby Riggs, a self-proclaimed "male chauvinist pig," who claimed even a mediocre male player, such as the 55-year-old Riggs himself, could beat the best female player, regardless of age.

Riggs, who won Wimbledon (1939) and the U.S. national championships (1939, 1941), had beaten Australian Margaret Smith Court in May 1973. So when King took up his challenge in September, in an exhibition that became known as the Battle of the Sexes, the stakes were higher. King says she was sick to her stomach before the match, which was unusual for her. "Sissy Bug will murder this Riggs," her father told Sports Illustrated writer Curry Kirkpatrick. "I hope Sissy shuts him up good. … Sissy will kill him, bet you five."

Bill Moffitt was right. His daughter ruled the court that night. Before 30,472 fans (a record crowd for one tennis match) in the Houston Astrodome, and 40 million television viewers, King beat Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and became a potent symbol of the women's movement. King went home with the $100,000 purse, the largest amount of prize money ever paid for a single match. "Billie Jean King didn't just raise consciousness, which was the feminist mantra then," Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated. "No, she absolutely changed consciousness." In 2001, the TV movie When Billie Beat Bobby dramatized this event, with Holly Hunter playing King, Ron Silver as Riggs.

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