As one of the most celebrated tennis players in history, and one of the 20th century’s most respected women, Billie Jean King has dedicated her life to breaking barriers both on and off the tennis court.
Billie Jean Moffit began playing tennis at the age of 11. After one of her first tennis lessons, she told her mother, “I’m going to be No. 1 in the world”, a title she would come to hold five times between 1966 and 1972.
For more than 20 years, King dominated the world of tennis. As a player, she won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles tennis titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon. In 1973, King defeated Bobby Riggs in the most talked-about tennis match in history. The “Battle of the Sexes” was a turning point for women in athletics, proving that skill is not dependent upon gender.
King’s efforts turned women’s tennis into a major professional sport. Outraged at the disparity between men’s and women’s prizes at major tournaments, King spearheaded the drive for equal prize money and equal treatment of women. She helped establish the Virginia Slims Tour, founded the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation, and co-founded World TeamTennis.
As a female athlete, King achieved a number of “firsts”. In 1971, she became the first female athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a single season, and in 1974, she became the first woman to coach a co-ed team in professional sports, the Philadelphia Freedoms. In 1984, King became the first woman commissioner in professional sports history.
In honor of her contributions to tennis, sports and society, the National Tennis Center was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006. In the same year, the Sports Museum of America and the Women’s Sports Foundation announced the Billie Jean King International Women’s Sports Center.
King is the author of numerous books, including, Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I”ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
King’s groundbreaking achievements spearheaded the women’s movement in tennis, affording today’s female athletes equal opportunity in the world of sports.