health & sports
Lesbian tennis great Billie Jean King honored at the U.S. Open
Ceremony marks official renaming of national tennis center
Published Thursday, 07-Sep-2006 in issue 976
NEW YORK (AP) – Billie Jean King has made quite a name for herself on and off the court, all around the globe. On opening night at the U.S. Open, the tennis world took care of that for her.
King, a winner of 39 career Grand Slam titles, was honored on Aug. 28 when the home of the U.S. Open was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The champion in singles, doubles and mixed doubles made an equally – if not more important mark – as a pioneer for the equality of women.
In addition to 67 singles wins on tour, King earned a monumental victory for women’s rights by beating Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battles of the Sexes” match at the Houston Astrodome. The importance of that event was felt around the world.
King was responsible for organizing the Women’s Tennis Association, a union that lobbied for equality in tennis.
“My mom, Betty Moffitt, always told me to follow the Shakespeare saying, ‘To thine own self be true,’” said King, as she became emotional on the court while her mother cried in the stands. “I hope to continue to always do that.”
Her mother never saw her play at the U.S. Open but she sat courtside when King was lauded by such tennis luminaries as Chris Evert, Venus Williams, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors – who, like King, were U.S. Open champions.
Also on hand to commemorate the dedication of the 46 1/2-acre public parks facility to King were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor David Dinkins. Diana Ross sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” before introducing King to the crowd inside a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.
McEnroe, who said he first met King as a teenager at the home of friend Mary Carillo – a former player and TV commentator – had a different take on King’s trailblazing efforts and her win over Riggs.
“I was a 14-year-old, male-chauvinist kid that hoped that Bobby Riggs would kick her [butt],” McEnroe said. “But now that I am a father of four little girls, I have to say for the record I’m glad Billie Jean King won.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Billie Jean King is the single most important person in the history of women’s sports.”
Evert credited King with guiding her throughout her playing career and in personal matters. She even served up advice when Evert broke off her youthful engagement to Jimmy Connors.
“Billie Jean was the biggest single influence in my life outside of my family,” Evert said. “She’s been my mentor for 35 years. She sees beyond the box.”
Arlen Kantarian, the USTA chief executive of professional tennis, said it was an easy decision to honor King this way.
“Billie Jean King is a great champion, but she’s used her success to do a lot more than impact the sport,” Kantarian said. “She’s impacted society. There are thousands of kids who have benefited.
“She’s an American hero.”
King, a product of the Los Angeles public parks system, emphasized that although the tennis center now bears her name, it is still a public parks facility that is open to everyone, every day of the year.
“My house is your house. This is our house,” she said.