Before Serena Williams, America shined in the game of tennis with Billie Jean King, arguably one of the world’s best tennis players of all time. She is most famous for the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match which she won against 55-year-old Bobby Riggs.
For a long time, King has been an avid advocate for gender equality and social justice. Here is a brief look at her career as well as facts about her personal life.
Billie Jean King Bio
Billie Jean King was born Billie Jean Moffitt on November 22, 1943, in Long Beach, California to Bill Moffitt, a firefighter and Betty King (née Jerman), a housewife. 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, as well as running the track. Billie has a younger brother named Randy Moffitt who is a retired professional baseball player, he played in the MLB for over a decade.
Billie Jean King’s first sports was softball and baseball, however, she focused on tennis after being introduced to the game at the age of 10. She bought her first racket with $8 of her own savings and honed her skills at free public courts in her locale.
She graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School and attended California State University, Los Angeles from where she dropped out to pursue a career in tennis. Billie Jean King went pro in 1968 and would become one of the finest tennis players ever. The former world no. 1 won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. She represented the US in the Federation Cup and served as the team captain for many years. King retired in 1983.
Her Net Worth
Billie Jean King was the first female pro tennis player to earn over $100,00 in prize money for a single season. King pushed for equal pay during her active years and once refrained from playing in a tournament, demanding an equal pay with the men. The US Open in 1973 succumbed to Jean’s campaign. She ended her career with a total prize money of $1.96 million. King earned far more from endorsement deals. Her net worth is estimated at $16 million.
Ex-Husband or Partner – Larry King (Tennis)
Billie Jean King was previously married to American attorney and real estate broker, Larry King. Their relationship was a huge part of Billie Jean’s blooming career as Larry was the driving force behind most of the achievements she made in tennis.
Billie Jean’s love story with Larry King began in 1963 after they met at the library of the California State University, Los Angeles where they both attended. Of course, it was their shared passion for tennis that brought them together as Larry King, at the time played for the CSU’s best men’s tennis team, coached by Scotty Deeds.
In the fall of 1964, the pair got engaged and tied the knot on the 17th of September, 1965. Billie Jean King was yet to turn pro at the time and with motivation from her dear husband whom she was totally smitten by, Billie Jean turned pro in 1968. It was Larry King who would introduce her to feminism and pushed to break boundaries that would change the way people perceived women in tennis.
In 1971, Larry conceived the idea of forming a professional tennis tour for women which would be named World Team Tennis. With support from Joe Cullman, CEO of Philip Morris and Gladys Heldman of World Tennis Magazine the league was formed in 1973.
In 1968, the same year she turned pro, Billie Jean realized that she was sexually attracted to not only men but women. Three years later, in 1973 and while still married to Larry King, she started a romantic relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett. Their relationship came to public light in 1981 after Marilyn Barnett filed a palimony lawsuit against her. Thus, Billie Jean King became the first professional sportswoman to come out as bisexual.
Despite the palimony lawsuit, Billie Jean remained married to Larry King and dismissed her relationship with Marilyn as just a fling. The palimony would come to cost her at least $2 million in endorsement and also forced her to prolong her career in order to pay off attorney fees.
However, the palimony lawsuit didn’t change how Billie Jean felt towards women as her relationship with her doubles partner, Ilana Kloss would come to be the end of her marriage to Larry King in 1987. Despite their split, Billie Jean remained friends with King. In 1984, she became the major owner of World Tennis Team. She and her partner Ilana Kloss are now godparents to King’s daughters with his second wife Nancy King.