Sports

Billie Jean King – Biography, Career, & Achievements

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is one of those Tennis players who lived an extraordinary life and made a mark, on and off the court. She has achieved multiple milestones in her Tennis career and as an LGBTQ activist, making her a remarkable professional of her time- not many have left such a huge impact on the world, such as her.

In this article, we’ll be talking about the legendary Tennis player, Billie Jean King’s career, biography, and achievements.

About Billie Jean King

King is renowned for winning 39 major titles in both singles and doubles, has helped form the Women’s Tennis Association, and has diligently worked for the equal prize money campaign for female players in the world of sports. 

Billie Jean King was born on 22nd November 1943 in Long Beach, California, USA to a Methodist family. She is an American Tennis Player. Her entire family excelled at sports and she got just the right genes as well- her mother, Betty, was a swimmer, and her father, Bill, played basketball and baseball and ran track. Her younger brother, Randy Moffitt was also a Baseball player of his time. 

Billie switched from playing softball to tennis at the age of 11 and saved her pocket money to buy her first racket worth $8. When she was 13 or 14, and met Bob Richards ( two-time Olympic pole-vaulting champion) at the Church of the Brethren, she told him that she wanted to become the best Tennis player in the world. 

The little girl saw big dreams and didn’t even graduate, as she was determined to make her career in Tennis, leaving school in 1964.

Did you know? At age 11, Billie King was one the top female players in the world who started the Women’s Tennis Association and WTA Tour. She pushed for gender pay equity in Tennis.

Career

Billie Jean King has single-handedly achieved a lot- bagging the title of the third winningest female player in the history of Tennis, and determination towards getting equal pay rights for all genders in sports. 

She was always inclined towards Tennis from a very young age and attracted a lot of international attention after winning her first major match with Karen Hantz in 1961 by winning the Wimbledon doubles championship. They were, in fact, the youngest team to win. 

She then made a record by winning 20 Wimbledon titles (singles 1966–68, 1972–73, and 1975; women’s doubles 1961–62, 1965, 1967–68, 1970–73, and 1979; mixed doubles 1967, 1971, and 1973–74), along with winning the U.S. singles (1967, 1971–72, and 1974), French singles (1972), and the Australian title (1968). 

Billie was indeed one of the greatest players of her time, winning 27 major titles. In 1967, she became the first woman since 1938 to sweep the U.S. and British singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles in a single year- leaving the world shaken!

And since then, there has been no looking back.

After starting her career in Tennis professionally in 1968, she became the first women athlete to win more than $100,000 in one season, in the year 1971. She beat Bobby Riggs in 1973 in the Battle of Sexes match, setting the record for the largest tennis audience and the largest purse awarded up to that time. 

After this, she started advocating for women’s rights for equal pay in sports, and LGBTQA rights and also got financial support from commercial sponsors to back her arguments. She also founded the Women’s Tennis Association and became the president in 1974. Billie’s husband, Larry King (married 1965–87), was part of the founding team of WTT (World Team Tennis) in 1974. This association closed in 1978 due to financial losses but revived the firm in 1981.

In the same year, she also declared her homosexual affair with her former secretary, who later sued King for material support. Her secretary lost the lawsuit eventually. After this incident, King became the most prominent female athlete to have declared her sexuality as a lesbian at that time, however, this made her lose a lot of brand deals at that time, as brands were still not comfortable with homosexuality. This didn’t stop Billie, and she continued to embrace her homosexuality and advocated for gay rights.

Billie King started her player-coach career in Philadelphia, becoming the first lady to coach professional male athletes. 

After retiring from Tennis in 1984, Billie became the first woman commissioner in professional sports with the World TeamTennis League. She also made it to the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990. Even though she retired, King continued to play Tennis as she truly loved the sport, and coached for several Olympic and Federation Cup teams. In fact, in 2020 the Federation Cup was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup to honor her. She continued to receive various honors such as from the United States Tennis Association in August 2006, when it was renamed the National Tennis Center, as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

She was also honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Billie wrote and published her autobiography- Billie Jean in 1974; with Kim Chapin, The Autobiography of Billie Jean King in 1982; with Frank Deford, and All In in 2021 with Johnette Howard and Maryanne Vollers. Some of her other publications include We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women’s Tennis (1988; with Cynthia Starr) and Pressure Is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes (2008; with Christine Brennan).

Records and Achievements

1. She made a record of winning 20 championships at Wimbledon.

2. She won against Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes.

3. Billie made a world record in the history of sports at that time to win $100,000 in one year.

4. She became the President of the Women’s Tennis Association Committee.

5. Billie was the first tennis player to be honored with the title of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.

6. Billie has been titled the Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year and also shot for the cover of the same magazine.

7. Being the first female athlete to come out as homosexual and stand for LGBTQ+ rights. 

8. Billie Jean founded the Women’s Sports Magazine and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

9. She received the nation’s highest civilian honor in 2009 by earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2009.

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