Before Serena Williams, America shone in tennis with Billie Jean King, probably one of the world’s best tennis players of all time. She is best known for the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, which she won against 55-year-old Bobby Riggs.
King has long been a fervent advocate of gender equality and social justice. Here is a brief look at her career and facts about her personal life.
Billie Jean King Bio
Billie Jean King was born in Long Beach, California, on November 22, 1943, the daughter of firefighter Billie Moffitt and housewife Betty King (née Jerman). King was born with athletic genes, as both her parents excelled in sports. While her mother was a good swimmer, her father was good at baseball, basketball, and also running. Billie has a younger brother named Randy Moffitt, who is a retired professional baseball player and played in the MLB for over a decade.
Billie Jean King’s first sports were softball and baseball, but she focused on tennis after being introduced to the game at the age of 10. She bought her first racket with $8 from her own savings and honed her skills on free public courts in her hometown.
She graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School and attended California State University in Los Angeles, which she dropped out of to pursue a tennis career. Billie Jean King turned pro in 1968 and was to become one of the best tennis players of all time. The former number 1 in the world won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. She represented the USA at the Federation Cup and served as team captain for many years. King retired in 1983.
Her Net Worth
Billie Jean King was the first female professional tennis player to receive over $100.00 in prize money in a single season. King urged equal pay during her active years and once waived her right to participate in a tournament and demanded equal pay with men. The 1973 US Open failed because of Jean’s campaign. She ended her career with total prize money of 1.96 million dollars. King earned far more through sponsorship contracts. Her net worth is estimated at 16 million dollars.
Ex-Husband or Partner – Larry King (Tennis)
Billie Jean King was previously married to Larry King, an American lawyer, and real estate agent. Their relationship was a large part of Billie Jean’s flourishing career, as Larry was the driving force behind most of her tennis successes.
Billie Jean’s love affair with Larry King began in 1963 after they met in the library of California State University in Los Angeles, which both attended. Of course, it was their shared passion for tennis that brought them together as Larry King, who played for the best men’s tennis team in CSU at the time and was coached by Scotty Deeds.
In the fall of 1964, the two became engaged and entered into a marriage on September 17, 1965. Billie Jean King was not yet a professional at that time, and with the motivation of her dear husband, whom she was completely enraptured by, Billie Jean turned pro in 1968. It was Larry King who introduced her to feminism and urged her to break down barriers that would change the way people perceived women in tennis.
In 1971, Larry had the idea of creating a professional women’s tennis tour called World Team Tennis. With the support of Joe Cullman, CEO of Philip Morris, and Gladys Heldman of World Tennis Magazine, the league was founded in 1973.
In 1968, the same year she turned pro, Billie Jean realized that she was sexually attracted not only to men but also to women. Three years later, in 1973, while still married to Larry King, she began a romantic relationship with her secretary Marilyn Barnett. Their relationship came to light in 1981 after Marilyn Barnett filed a palimony suit against her. Thus Billie Jean King became the first professional sportswoman who turned out to be bisexual.
Despite the palimony suit, Billie Jean remained married to Larry King and blamed her relationship with Marilyn Barnett only as an affair. The palimony would cost her at least $2 million in support and also forced her to extend her career to pay the legal fees.
However, the palimony suit did not change how Billie Jean felt about women, as her relationship with her doubles partner Ilana Kloss would mean the end of her marriage to Larry King in 1987. Despite their separation, Billie Jean remained friends with King. In 1984 she became the principal owner of the World Tennis Team. Today she and her partner Ilana Kloss and his second wife Nancy King are godfathers of King’s daughters.