Tennis Legend Billie Jean King paved the way for women in tennis, advocating for equal prize money as their male counterparts. She also bravely came out as gay despite being advised against it.
Billie Jean King was the top-ranked woman in the world for six consecutive years. She bagged twenty Wimbledon championships and thirty-nine Grand Slam titles.
King also defeated Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes.” These are some of the life achievements she recounts in her autobiography titled “All In.”
The former world No.1 also recalls the cultural backdrop of those years and the impact on her worldview from the women’s movement, civil rights, and LGBTQ+ rights movements.
King describes the challenges she came across, including sexism, having an eating disorder, financial woes after being out, and her journey to publicly acknowledging her sexual identity at the age of 51.
The California native also offers advice on societal issues such as activism, parenting, marriage equality, love, sexuality, and sports.
In August 2013, King got candid about why she could not identify herself as gay in the 1970s. She explained it would have tainted the newly founded women’s professional tennis image.
She was the first prominent female to come out as gay in 1981 after her partner filed a palimony lawsuit against her. King told a Television Critics Association session:
“I don’t think it would have helped the situation. I think it would have hurt us more because we were just getting started.”
King revealed she fought with her attorney and publicist about holding a news conference to announce her sexuality for 48 consecutive hours after she was sued by partner, Marilyn Barnett:
“At that time, I was still trying to find myself. My poor parents are homophobic. I grew up homophobic.”
She said her most significant challenge was coming to terms with everything changing while revealing she did not get comfortable in her skin about being gay until she was in her fifties.
King was one of the first athletes to be publicly outed and said the experience was terrible. She told her publicist and attorney that she did not care about the outcome but would reveal her identity regardless.
King said her mother always said: “To shrine own self be true,” adding that telling the truth was necessary. She even claimed she would have done it sooner when asked if she were to do things differently.
While fighting to be recognized as gay, King also had the challenge to advocate for female athletes to be paid equally as their male counterparts.
The “Out to Win” star wanted to change the world and found a voice in her field of expertise. King revealed to Fox News recently she would have used her platform for the greater good sooner if she had learned she was no.1 earlier, stating:
“Back then, no one listened to girls.”
She and eight other female tennis players dubbed the “Original 9” risked their careers so that women could have a seat at the table. Their advocacy became fruitful because women in tennis live the dream they envisioned back in 1970 today.
King is now on the board of World Team Tennis and a part-owner of the Freedom’s league. She won her first adult tournament in 1959 at age 15. The athlete was born Billie Jean Moffitt on November 22, 1943, in Long Beach, California, to parents Bill and Betty.
King is from an athletic family. Her dad was previously offered a tryout for an NBA team, her mom was a great swimmer, and her brother Randal became a Major League Baseball pitcher.
King began playing tennis at age 11 on the Long Beach public courts. Her friend Susan Williams was the first person who invited her to play tennis back in elementary school in California.
King lived in Society Hill when she played for the Freedoms and loved every moment of it. She revealed during her first time there; she went to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
King was married to one of the founders of World Team Tennis, Larry King, who was an attorney. The pair met in the library at California State University, Los Angeles.
Larry was majoring in biochemistry while she majored in history. The 78-year-old gushed over her former college sweetheart, saying:
“He was so gorgeous.”
The former couple got married when they were still in school, she was 21 years old, and he was twenty. In 2011, she revealed to Philly Magazine that she would marry him again without hesitating:
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Larry was a tireless entrepreneur. He encouraged me, looked after me, and pushed me to pursue tennis full-time. He was the real feminist.”
She and Larry got married in 1965 but divorced in 1987 and remained good friends after that. He remarried and had a son and a daughter. King is the godmother of his son.
NEW ROMANCE & SECRET NUPTIALS
She also moved on, having fallen in love with Ilana Kloss, her South African doubles partner whom she wed in a secret ceremony in 2018. The lovebirds tied the knot after being together for a few decades.
In her book “All In,” King revealed details about their relationship and nuptials. She disclosed the former New York Mayor David Dinkins married her and the 65-year-old in October 2018.
The intimate wedding took place in Dinkins’ apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The only two other people in attendance were Dinkins’ wife Joyce and an aide who served as a witness.
“Nobody threw rice or smashed wedding cake in other’s face. One of the brides wore jeans and a lovely red scarf, and the other had on a black skirt, a comfortable warm-up suit, and pearls – a personal touch of glamour that Ilana still teases me about,” she wrote.
King revealed she and Kloss decided to get hitched after the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. The couple witnessed more of their friends tying the knot after that.
King admitted that she was hesitant about getting married to the tennis coach, whom she called the love of her life, because she had conflicted feelings about the constitution of marriage.