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"I didn't feel it was a very big accomplishment athletically. But psychologically and emotionally it was a big deal. I knew it might provide a springboard for girls and women in athletics."

— Billie Jean King

Tennis dress, 1973
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Acutely aware of the media frenzy surrounding her match with Riggs, King chose this flashy polyester-knit costume created by Teddy Tingling. Consistent with the revolutionary attitudes of the time, the design departed from traditional tennis whites.

— Gift of Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King
Activist Athlete

Billie Jean King championed women's sports as fiercely as she dominated international tennis. Her most celebrated match was at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, when she and former men's champion Bobby Riggs, famous for mocking women's sports, faced off in what the media called the "Battle of the Sexes." Forty million people tuned in to watch King slam Riggs in three straight sets. Later she told Newsweek, "I just had to play . . . Title IX [the ban on gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs] had just passed, and I . . . wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation."

King was the first female player to win more than $100,000 in a season, yet male players made three times as much. Infuriated by the injustice, she and other top women players called for a boycott. The move led to the creation of the first tennis tour for women. King helped found WomenSports magazine and the Women's Sports Foundation. After leaving tennis in 1983, she continued to advocate for gender equity.

Name: Billie Jean Moffitt King
Born: Long Beach, California, 1943–
  • First female Sportsperson of the Year, Sports Illustrated, 1972
  • First female athlete to win more than $100,000 in a single season, 1971
  • 22-time Wimbledon Champion, 6 singles, 16 doubles
  • 13-time U.S. Open Champion, 4 singles, 9 doubles
  • French Open Singles Champion, 1972
  • Australian Open Singles Champion, 1968
  • Advocate for gender equity in sports

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