Executives Spotlight stories appeared on this website starting in 2001. Some of the executive's professional experience may have changed since they were published.
Spotlight - December 11, 2003
Billie Jean King
Co-Founder, World TeamTennis
Occasionally, very occasionally, I substitute in a women's doubles game at my tennis club. Last Friday, and now all too frequently, the other women stop....and stare at my strokes. A single-handed backhand? A single-handed high backhand volley? We come to the net and I explain that I'm of the Billie Jean King era. We have single-handed backhands, sweeping service motions and rush to net.
Thirty years ago, I switched from a Tad Davis tennis racquet to a Wilson Billie Jean King racquet. It was the racquet I used when I made the Indiana University's women's tennis team. Why, if Billie Jean King buys these racquets (I thought she bought hers just like I bought mine!) and she won all those tournaments, then surely some of her skill would be mine!
Several Friday nights ago, I answered my home phone line. "Hello," I said. "Hi, Buffy, it's Billie!" In one of those split seconds that feels like hours, my face flushed, my heart pounded. Was it an anxiety-attack or was it hot flashes (it's hard to tell the difference at my age?) Absolute total blankness in my mind. We call these "senior moments." I didn't know who it was. How many Billies...that is, female Billies do I know? A light went on. Wow, it's Billie Jean King!
"I wanted to thank you for contributing to my surprise 60th birthday party!" the voice continued.
It was Billie Jean King. The Women's Sports Foundation hosted her sixtieth birthday party on October 19th, right before the Women's Sports Foundation annual dinner and raised money in her honor to fund the Foundation.
I felt humbled. Whatever amount my gift was, I never thought I'd receive a personal thank-you call from Billie Jean King. We talked for about 20 minutes. Her enthusiasm and energy hasn't waned. And her refrain is the same as it has been for nearly 40 years - most all her life. She kept espousing the importance of helping young girls and women be able to participate in athletics.
"I've long since believed that girls ought to participate in team sports, and now I'm convinced they should participate in both team and individual sports," she insisted.
I hung up the phone. Sixty years of age, I thought....
Her "soul mate" Elton John sings,
"Who'll walk me down to church when I'm sixty years of age
When the ragged dog they gave me has been ten years in the grave...
You've hung up your great coat and you've laid down your gun
You know the war you fought in wasn't too much fun..."
And I thought to myself, Billie has done so much. Will the next generation remember the wars you've fought? Will they remember.....
- Thirty years ago how your defeating former Wimbledon and US Open Tennis Champion, Bobby Riggs, in straight sets to win the "Battle of the Sexes" lifted women athletes as a force to be reckoned with.
- Your launching of the Women's Sports Foundation which has educated thousands of girls, mothers, fathers, coaches, administrators on the value of women participating in sports activities; has granted millions of dollars in scholarships and training to aspiring women athletes and has lobbied governments and educational institutions for equal opportunities for women in sports
- Along with a number of world-class women athletes, your pushing through Title IX legislation which is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity at any educational institution that is a recipient of federal funds.
- And, along with a number of top women tennis players, your leadership in starting the Women's Tennis Association, still the strongest women's sports organization in the world.
I cannot help but support more words from Elton John; those he sang for you...wrote for you...and your Philadelphia Freedoms World Team Tennis team....
"Oh Philadelphia Freedom shine on me, I love you
Shine a light through the eyes of the ones left behind
Shine a light shine a light
Shine a light won't you shine a light
Philadelphia Freedom I love you, yes I do"
We shine our light on you. You must always be remembered and celebrated. You've done so much and continue to do so......Happy 60th, Billie!
"Billie Jean King made Title IX real. She lifted the heads and hearts of women at a critical time in history. But most importantly, she gave back and continues to keep giving."
--Donna Lopiano, CEO, Women's Sports Foundation
What I do...
Billie Jean King serves as an owner, director and co-founder of WorldTeam Tennis. Through her foundation, Billie Jean King WTT Charities, she works to inspire all humankind in the pursuit of excellence regardless of race, gender, physical or mental challenges, appearance, or sexual orientation. She serves as a director on several boards including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Women's Sports Legends, Women's Sports Foundation and Altria Group, Inc.
HOW I GOT HERE...
WORLD TEAMTENNIS; 1989-Present
Coach - Philadelphia Freedoms; 1974
WomenSports Magazine; 1970's
WOMEN'S SPORTS FOUNDATION; 1974-present
WOMEN'S TENNIS ASSOCIATION; 1973-present
Women's Professional Tennis Player 1961 - 1984
71 singles championships; #1 world ranking 5 times; #1 US 7 times
Author: "Tennis to Win" with Kim Chapin in '70, "The autobiographical Billie Jean" with Kim Chapin in '74, "Billie Jean King's Secrets of Winning Tennis" with Joe Hyams in '74, "Tennis Love: A Parent's Guide to the Sport in '78," "The Autobiography of Billie Jean King" with Frank Deford in '82 and "We Have Come A Long Way: The Story of Women's Tennis" with Cynthia Starr in '88
Her awards tell the tale: in '67 she was named "Outstanding Female Athlete of the World," in '72 she was the first woman named "Sports Illustrated" "Sportsperson of the Year," in '73 she was "Female Athlete of the Year," in '85 she was given the "Living Legacy" award, she's a member of the Women's Sports Hall of Fame, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the National Women's Hall of Fame, and in '90 "Life" magazine named her one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.