Billie Jean King is a true pioneer in women’s sports. She was born Billie Jean Moffitt on November 22, 1943 in Long Beach California to parents Bill and Betty. Her first sport was basketball, followed by softball. In fifth grade, she asked her father what other sports she could find success in. Her father mentioned tennis and King was introduced to the sport by her friend, Susan Williams. Williams took King to a country club, where she picked up a racquet for the first time. King began the play on public courts in Long Beach, using a racquet she’d purchased herself.
King turned pro in 1959. She competed in tournaments and worked as an instructor while attending California State University, Los Angeles. In 1961, King and Karen Hantze Susman won the Wimbledon women’s doubles title, the youngest pair to do so. King won her first major singles championship at Wimbledon in 1966, repeating in 1967 and 1968. Over her career, Billie Jean King won 39 major titles.
King became known for her advocacy for gender equality on and off the court. She campaigned for equal prize money between men and women. She helped found the Women’s Tennis Association and served as its first president. In 1973, King defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes.” The match remains the most widely watched tennis match in history.
In 2014, Billie Jean King led a U.S. delegation of openly gay athletes appointed by President Barack Obama to the Sochi 2014 in response to anti-LGBTQ+ Russian laws.
King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. She has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2018, won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, the Federation Cup was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup in her honor.
Billie Jean King was inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2022 as a special contributor, the first woman inducted into the category.