American Masters (2013 Season) – Billie Jean King

Biography, Firsts & Factoids

Air date: 09/10/2013

American Masters

Billie Jean King


Premieres nationwide Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) to commemorate 40th anniversaries of King v. Riggs “The Battle of the Sexes” match & founding of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and equal prize money


Biography, Firsts & Factoids


Billie Jean King is one of the most famous athletes and social icons in American history. She has long been a champion for social change and equality. King created new inroads for men and women in sports and beyond during her legendary career and she continues to make her mark today.

Born in Long Beach, California, she first played tennis at the age of 11 in the public parks of southern California. King won her first of a record 20 Wimbledon titles when she captured the 1961 Wimbledon Ladies’ Doubles Championship with Karen Hantze in 1961. She went on to win 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles during her career. On September 20, 1973, she empowered women and educated men when she defeated Bobby Riggs in one of the greatest moments in sports history – “The Battle of the Sexes.” This match is remembered for its effect on society and its contribution to the women’s movement.

King was named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by Life magazine and, in 2009, President Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In 2006 her accomplishments both on and off the court were recognized when the home of the U. S. Open was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. In 2007, she co-founded GreenSlam, an organization dedicated to improving the greening of sports. In 2008, King released her first book in more than 20 years. Titled Pressure is a Privilege, the book shares a collection of life lessons she has used throughout her life and career.

King continues her life mission to help the underserved, most notably through her efforts to provide programming and funding for those infected, affected or at risk of HIV/AIDS through her work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF). A member of the organization’s Board of Trustees, King has helped the organization raise more than $225 million in support of worthy programs in 55 countries around the world.

Since founding the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974, Billie Jean has led the organization in its mission to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $50 million in educational and cash grants to advance participation, research and leadership in sports and physical activity for girls and women.

In 2010, King was appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and, in 2013, she was named to the board of the Andy Roddick Foundation.


Billie Jean King Firsts

  • First woman commissioner in professional sports history (World TeamTennis, 1984)
  • First woman to coach a co-ed team in professional sports (Philadelphia Freedoms, WTT, 1974)
  • First female athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a single season ($117,000, 1971)
  • Only woman to win U.S. singles title on four surfaces (grass, clay, carpet, hard courts)
  • One of six inaugural inductees into the Court of Fame at the USTA National Tennis Center (2003)
  • First woman to have a major sports venue named in her honor (USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center – 2006)
  • First female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009)


Billie Jean King Factoids

  • Billie Jean King was born Nov. 22, 1943 and grew up in Long Beach, Calif., where her father, Bill, worked for the Long Beach Fire Department and her mother, Betty, was a homemaker.
  • At age 5, while washing dishes, Billie Jean told her mom, “I am going to do something great with my life.”
  • Billie Jean’s brother, Randy Moffitt, was a relief pitcher in Major League Baseball for 13 years (pitched with the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays).
  • Billie Jean bought her first tennis racquet – which came complete with maroon strings – at age 11, using money she had saved from odd jobs. The racquet, which cost $8, was purchased from Brown’s Sporting Goods on Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach.
  • At age 11, Betty picked Billie Jean up from a session of free tennis lessons at Houghton Park in Long Beach and Billie told her “I am going to be No. 1 in the world.” Betty thought that was nice and then reminded Billie Jean she had homework to complete and piano lessons to practice.
  • Playing in a tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club in 1955, Billie Jean was barred from posing for a group picture of junior tennis players because she was wearing tennis shorts and not a tennis skirt.
  • King was one of nine players who broke away from the tennis establishment and accepted $1 contracts from tennis promoter Gladys Heldman in Houston in 1970. The revolt led to the formation of the Virginia Slims Tour and Women’s Tennis Association.
  • King was the first female athlete in any sport to win $100,000 (1971).
  • In 1973, King lobbied for, and obtained, equal prize money for men and women at the U.S. Open. This year’s event celebrates 25 years of equal prize money at the U.S. Open.
  • Life magazine named Billie Jean one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.”
  • Elton John wrote his No. 1 hit “Philadelphia Freedom” for Billie Jean.