Billie Jean King

“You have to see it to be it.”

Billie Jean King, tennis star, 1943-present

During her ground-breaking career in tennis in the 1960s and ’70s, Billie Jean King was the world #1 woman player for a total of six years and won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 20 at Wimbledon. Both on and off the court she was a tireless advocate for gender equality and social justice, with a whole string of incredible firsts. In 1955, at age 12, King was barred from a photograph at the Los Angeles Tennis Club for wearing shorts, rather than the traditional tennis skirt.

This defining moment launched a career of fighting for women’s equity in tennis prize money, which was ultimately successful, and the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association. In 1972 she shared the title of “Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year” with John Wodder, and the following year she would win the tennis match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes,” at age 29, against 55-year- old Bobby Riggs. 90 million people watched her decisive win, changing the popular view of women’s tennis forever.

The visionary King has received hundreds of honors, but perhaps most significant was being the first female recipient of The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US, bestowed upon her by President Obama in 2019 for her advocacy work for women and the LGBTQ2 community. She continues to break barriers through her Foundation and lively Twitter feed, and at just 5-foot 4 1/2 inches tall remains the most petite tennis player to have ever won a Grand Slam.


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