13 Facts About Tennis Legend Billie Jean King

From tennis star to women's and LGBT rights crusader.

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Some people are made for greatness; tennis legend Billie Jean King is one of them. Her power and strength on and off the tennis court makes her a hero, and her legacy of progress and change make her a legend. Her bravery in the face of adversity is what everyone should strive for. Her work for women's and LGBT rights helped make the world more open, equal and accepting.

Here are a few things you may not have known about Billie Jean King:


1. She first picked up a tennis racket at age 11, and immediately knew that was what she wanted as her career.


2. She held 129 career title wins, including 39 Grand Slams.

3. In her 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs, a male former Wimbledon champion, she played him in front of 50 million TV viewers, and won.




4. She threatened to boycott the U.S. Open unless women were given the same amount in prize money as men, and won.

5. Billie Jean King was the first female tennis player to make $100,000 in a year.

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6. She started the first women’s tennis union, magazine, and first co-ed tennis team, the Philadelphia Flyers.

7. Billie Jean and the Philadelphia Flyers were the inspiration for the Elton John song "Philadelphia Freedom."


8. King didn't realize she was gay until 1968 at age 25, after she had already married her college boyfriend, Larry King.


9. King was outed as having had an abortion in 1971. Her husband, without her approval, told the media, saying she said their marriage wasn’t stable enough for a child.



10. 1981, King was sued by her former secretary and lover, Marilyn Barnett, forcing her out of the closet, making her the first prominent lesbian in sports history.


11. Since divorcing her husband in 1987, King has been with her partner Ilana Kloss almost 30 years.




12. King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center in New York City was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

13. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her work advocating for the rights of women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.