by Jasmine Batchelor
February 14, 2019
Sports Icon, Social Justice Pioneer and Entrepreneur
As one of the 20th century’s most respected and influential people, Billie Jean King has long been a champion for social justice and equality. She has created new inroads for both genders in and out of sports during her legendary career and she continues to make her mark today.
King, who won an astounding 39 Grand Slam titles during her career, blazed trails for women everywhere in 1970 when she became one of nine players to break away from the tennis establishment and accept a one dollar contract from tennis promoter Gladys Heldman to compete in the newly created Virginia Slims Series. The revolt led to the birth of women’s pro tennis and the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association.
In 1973, King produced one of the greatest moments in sports history when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the famous match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.”
The Riggs-King match took place at the Houston Astrodome, and garnered huge publicity. In front of more than 30,000 spectators and a worldwide television audience estimated at 50 million people in 37 countries, 29-year-old King beat the 55-year-old Riggs 6–4, 6–3, 6–3. It still remains one of the most viewed sports events of all time, and the story is now a major motion picture starring Emma Stone as Billie, and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs.
In 1974, King co-founded World TeamTennis, a mixed-gender professional tennis league, and remained heavily involved with the league for over 40 years, selling her majority ownership stake in 2017.
She currently owns the Philadelphia Freedoms and heads up the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. She also serves on the executive boards of the Women’s Sports Foundation (which she founded) and Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF).
Named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by Life and a 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, King was honored on August 28, 2006, when the National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
She is also the author of Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes to commemorate the 35th anniversary of that historic match.