Billie Jean King Bio And Facts

Billie Jean King

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. She 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. 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 closed-mindedness was 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: Professional tennis player and then 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: King won 39 major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships 
  • Nicknames: Billie

Tennis Career

Billie Jean King’s career is a one filled with many wins and additionally many wins that mean a lot 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. 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 did so easily in straight sets.

Titles and Awards

Billie Jean King has won so many titles and awards, that it may be impossible to list them all. Some of the most important and influential awards include:

  • 1958: Won the Southern California Junior championship.
  • 1967: U.S. singles champion, Wimbledon singles and doubles champion, South Africa champion, and U.S. Open champion. Additionally awarded Woman Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
  • 1971: First female tennis player to achieve a total of $100,000 in prize money.
  • 1973:Winner of ‘The Battle of the Sexes ‘against opponent Bobby Riggs. 
  • 1973-75, 1980-81: President, Women's Tennis Association, and now is the cofounder of the association.
  • 1975: Wimbledon singles champion and announces partial retirement, but full retirement in 1990.
  • 1984: First female commissioner (World Team Tennis) in professional sports history.
  • 1987: Voted and Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
  • 1990: Voted one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" by Life Magazine and voted 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. Because of her position as the best women's tennis player, she was able to leverage that and start the Women’s Tennis Association and became the first president of the organization. Because of this, 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. 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. Because she was born in a very conservative Methodist family, one of her ambitions was to 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. Because of this event and what she learned through college, she was able to really understand the inequality that women faced at that time. This knowledge 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.


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

Hollywood released a movie 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 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 King play any other sports?

King was an extremely talented and athletic person similar to the rest of her family who boasted extreme athleticism. Her 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). Her 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 King accomplish?

King was an amazing person and has been a leader in the fight for equality even when she was a professional tennis player. In 2009, she 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. She continues to be a champion for human rights to this day.