Billie Jean King Bio And Facts

Billie Jean King is a long-retired American tennis legend who in her time was breaking boundaries not only for women in sports, but also for people in the LGBT+ community. Her athletic prowess showed through all of her adversities and turned her into the legend that she is today.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King was born on November 22, 1943. Raised in a conservative Methodist family from Long Beach, California, she participated in sports from a young age, as all of her family members were athletic. Her father, Bill Moffitt, played basketball and baseball, and also ran track, while her mother was an excellent swimmer. King’s younger brother, Randy Moffitt, was an MLB pitcher for 12 years, and Billie also excelled at baseball and softball in her childhood. At age 11, however, she switched to tennis, and quickly desired to become the best tennis player ever. 

King, who married sports promoter Larry King (distinct from Larry King, the famous newscaster) in 1965, became the top-ranked women's tennis player by 1967, and formed the Women’s Tennis Association as well.

Outside of these accomplishments, she was the first prominent female athlete to speak openly about her sexuality, having realized that she was attracted to women in the late 1960s. She was discriminated against by many of her peers and sponsors, but through her perseverance and dedication, she still made a name for herself in a time when her values were not as commonplace. Not only is she a legend of the sport of tennis, but she is a legend for women and activists everywhere.

  • Born: November 22, 1943 (22-10-1943)
  • Education: Attended Long Beach Poly High School and Los Angeles State College
  • Net Worth: $20 Million
  • Occupation: Retired Professional Tennis Player, Activist
  • Height: 5’4.5” (1.64 m)
  • Weight: 134.5 lbs (61 kg)
  • Position: Singles and Doubles
  • Years Active: 1961-1990 (29)
  • Career Wins: 696 Singles Wins 
  • Nicknames: Billie

Tennis Career

Billie Jean King’s career is one filled with many wins and serves as an inspiration for women in sports. After a promising career start, she won her first singles championship at Wimbledon in 1966. She defended that title for two years and then claimed her first U.S. Open title in 1968 and then the Australian Open in 1969. King became the first female tennis player to achieve a total of $100,000 in prize money in 1971.

Because of her level of play, she became the number one ranked female tennis player in the world. Not only was she dominant in singles tournaments, but she raked up many wins in doubles and mixed doubles over the years. She won tournaments in the U.S. Open, French Open, and Wimbledon in 1972 to claim three Grand Slam titles in a single year.

Her most popular and well known wins are commonly called “Battle of the Sexes.” She challenged former men's champion and renowned sexist Bobby Riggs to a tennis match in 1973. Not only did she defeat him, but she did so easily in straight sets. King had a long and successful career, competing well after her prime, and finally entering full retirement in 1990.

Titles and Awards

  • 1968 Australian Open Singles Champion
  • 1972 French Open Singles Champion
  • 6x Wimbledon Singles Champion  (1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1975)
  • 4x US Open Singles Champion (1967, 1971, 1972, 1974)
  • 1987 International Tennis Hall of Fame Inductee

Billie Jean King has won so many titles and awards, that it may be impossible to list them all. In 1958, she won the Southern California Junior championship. 1967 saw King becoming U.S. singles champion, Wimbledon singles and doubles champion, South Africa champion, and U.S. Open champion. Additionally, she was awarded Woman Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.

King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1990, she was voted one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" by Life Magazine and inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Personal Life

King’s personal life is one of breaking the barriers. She was the first significant female athlete to come out as gay. With significant backlash because of cultural ignorance, her life was made much more difficult. Outside of tennis, she actively fought for equal rights for women in sports.

King was able to leverage her position to start the Women’s Tennis Association and became the first president of the organization. She served in that position from 1973-75 and 1980-81. As a result, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for both male and female athletes.

Because of her interest in women, she lost all of her sponsorships in 1981, almost ten years after starting a relationship with another woman. In 1984, King became the first female commissioner of World Team Tennis in professional sports history. Today, she is celebrated as being a professional tennis player, but more importantly, one of the most significant activists of her time. Currently, she is married to former player Ilana Kloss.

Fun Facts

  • Billie Jean King wanted to grow up and be a preacher. She was very religious as a child and wasn't exposed to many other religions and practices until leaving the household.
  • She was no stranger to adversity and had been denied from gaining a tennis scholarship in college only because she was a woman.
  • King’s experiences of discrimination led her to become one of the most prominent female activists of her time.
  • She was the first woman to win “Sportsperson of the Year” by Sports Illustrated and because of this she created the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization tasked in providing opportunities for female participation in sport.
  • King founded the Women’s Tennis Union and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
  • She was the inspiration for Elton John’s hit song, “Philadelphia Freedom.”
  • King has been awarded the US Medal of Honor and the French Medal of Honor.
  • The National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, was renamed to honor King in 2006.
  • The Fed Cup was also renamed in her honor in 2020.
  • King is part of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group.


Were there any movies based on Billie Jean King’s life?

Hollywood released a movie, Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell that tells the story of her incredible win against Bobby Riggs. This movie, released in 2017, chronicles her life preparing for and after her match against Rigg who was known for making many sexist comments. This is an incredible film that was highly rated by critics and both Stone and Carell were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. This event was also brought to the screen in the 2001 TV movie When Billie Beat Bobby.

When did Billie Jean King retire?

King announced that she was going to retire all the way back in 1975, after winning singles at Wimbledon. However, she continued to play, winning many titles in the doubles category including the U.S. Open, and Wimbledon. She also continued to play a lot of doubles in the Women's Tennis Association until her final retirement in 1990. After that, her activism took the main stage as she continued to fight for equal representation for women in sports.  

Did Billie Jean King play any other sports?

King's first sport that she was great at was softball, winning the city championship with girls five years older than her (she was 10 at the time). She was an extremely talented and athletic person similar to the rest of her family who boasted extreme athleticism. King’s parents thought that she should play a more feminine sport, so that was what got her into tennis at a young age.

What other accolades did Billie Jean King accomplish?

In 2009, Billie Jean King was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama. Also, she founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a non-profit that is promising to help balance the workforce and provide equal opportunities for all. King was an amazing person and has been a leader in the fight for equality even when she was a professional tennis player. She continues to be a champion for human rights to this day.