November 22, 1943
Born in: Long Beach, California
Career: Tennis Player
Billie Jean King is one of the most successful women tennis players from the United States. She made her Grand Slam debut, at the tender age of 15 years, at the U.S. Championships. She retired from competitive play in singles in 1983 and also gave up competitive play in doubles in March 1990. In her entire tennis career, she has won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. King has always been a supporter of gender equality in tennis prize money and was instrumental in furthering tennis profession in a number of other ways too.
Billie Jean King was born ‘Billie Jean Moffitt’ on 22nd November 1943, in Long Beach, California. Her father was a firefighter, while her mother was a housewife, both of whom were conservative Methodists. She has a younger brother Randy Moffitt grew, who was a professional baseball player, pitching for 12 years in the major leagues for the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays. King attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School and later, graduated from California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA). While studying at the university, she had to work two jobs to pay her way.
Initial Tennis Career
Billie Jean King made her Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Championships, at the age of 15, and lost to Justina Bricka. In 1959, Alice Marble, winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, started coaching King on weekends. King won her first adult tournament title in 1960, at the Philadelphia and District Women's Grass Court Championships, defeating Karen Hantze Susman. The next year came with a lot of promise for King, when she won the women's doubles title at Wimbledon, in her first attempt, partnering Karen Hantze Susman.
She also defeated Ann Haydon Jones in the Wightman Cup, which she played for the first time, but lost to Janes. In 1962, in only her second career singles match at Wimbledon, King beat Margaret Smith Court, the World No. 1 and top seed, in a second round match. After reaching the quarterfinals, she lost to fifth-seeded Ann Haydon Jones. The following year, she won the Southern California Championships for the first time, along with her first international title at the Irish Championships.
It was in the year 1964 that King decided to play full-time tennis and make her commitment to the game. Robert Mitchell, with her offer to pay her way to Australia to train under the great Australian coach Mervyn Rose, was the one who helped her make the decision. In 1965, King won six tournaments and was also awarded the sole U.S. No. 1 position; by the United States Lawn Tennis Association. It was for the first time in 81 years that the annual convention of the Association had overruled its ranking committee's recommendation.
King started 1966 by defeating Dorothy "Dodo" Cheney for the first time in five career matches, following it with her win over Margaret Smith Court in the final of South African Tennis Championships. She tasted success for the first time, by winning her first singles titles at Wimbledon as well as the first twelve Grand Slam singles. The period beginning with 1966, and ending with 1975, saw King winning 32 of her career 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 9 of her 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 10 of her 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.
Amongst her Grand Slam singles titles of the period, she won six at Wimbledon, four at the U.S. Championships/Open, one at the French Open and one at the Australian Championships. King reached the final of a Grand Slam singles tournament in 16 out of 25 attempts and in the rest nine, she reached semifinals twice and quarterfinals five times. During this time, she also gained year-ending World No. 1 position, atleast 6 times, ending World No. 2 three times and World No. 3 one time. Of the 129 singles titles of her career, King won 97 in these ten years itself.
Later Years in Tennis
In 1976, King won five Federation Cup singles matches in straight sets and partnered Phil Dent to the mixed doubles title at the U.S. Open. The next year, she won the much-controversial Lionel Cup tournament, defeating transsexual Renee Richards. She also won Family Circle Cup against Nancy Richey Gunter and ended the year with a win-loss record of 31–3. In 1978, King teamed with Navratilova and won women's doubles title at the U.S. Open, a feat that the partners repeated the next year.
In 1980, King beat Navratilova to win the Houston tournament. This victory was followed by her defeat in the French Open, King’s first French Open since her win in 1972. She again teamed with Navratilova and won the 39th and final Grand Slam title of her career, at the U.S. Open. The year 1982 saw her first career victory over Austin as well as her becoming the oldest female semifinalist at Wimbledon, since Dorothea Douglass Lambert Chambers in 1920. At the end of the next year, she retired from competitive play in singles. After occasionally playing in the doubles, she finally retired from competitive play in doubles in March 1990.
King was one of the significant forces that led to the opening of tennis to professionalism. With the start of the open ear in tennis, she advocated equal prize money in the men's and women's games. After receiving less than her male counterpart in U.S. Open in 1972, she said that she would not play the next year if the discrimination continued. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women. King also supported the first professional women's tennis tour in the 1970s, called the Virginia Slims.
In 1973, King became the first president of the women's players union – the Women's Tennis Association. The following year, she founded the ‘womenSports’ magazine and ‘Women's Sports Foundation’, along with her husband Larry King and Jim Jorgensen. She also helped establish World TeamTennis in 1974. In 1982, she was made league commissioner. Presently, King is member of the Board of Honorary Trustees for the Sports Museum of America, the home of the Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center.
Billie Jean married Lawrence King on 17th September 1965, in Long Beach, California. Three years later, she realized her preference for other women and in 1971; she began an intimate relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett. King had an abortion in 1971, since she did not believe her marriage to be strong enough to have a child. Ten years later, in 1981, a lawsuit was filed against her, forcing her to acknowledge her relationship with Marilyn as well as the fact that she was a gay. As a result, she lost major endorsements and was also ousted.
After the lawsuit, her marriage did not last long and ended with a divorce, in 1987. In the mid-1990s, King became the captain of the United States Fed Cup team and coach of its women's Olympic tennis squad. She was elected in 1999, to serve on the Board of Directors of Philip Morris Incorporated, a post she no longer holds. King also made an appearance, as a judge, on Law & Order, one of her favorite television shows, in April 2007. Retired from professional tennis, she now resides in New York and Chicago, with her partner Ilana Kloss.
- 12 Grand Slam Singles Titles
- 16 Grand Slam Women's Doubles Titles
- 11 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles Titles