King overwhelms Riggs in Ms.-match

Updated: January 8, 2002, 1:04 PM ET
By Nick Acocella | Special to

Signature Match
Sept. 20, 1973 - The "Battle of the Sexes" pitted the queen of women's tennis, Billie Jean King, against the king of male chauvinists, Bobby Riggs. In a circus-like atmosphere in the Astrodome in Houston, Billie Jean was transported into the stadium on a Cleopatra-style gold litter that was held aloft by four muscular track-and-field athletes from nearby Rice University.

Riggs entered in a gold-wheeled rickshaw pulled by six models in tight red-and-gold outfits who were dubbed, for ample reason, "Bobby's Bosom Buddies." After Riggs presented King with a large candy sucker, she gave him her gift -- a brown baby pig.

King, who already had won five Wimbledon singles titles, had the last laugh on the court as well. In a Ms.-match, the 29-year-old King overwhelmed the 55-year-old hustler, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, before 30,492, the largest crowd to ever attend a tennis match.

"She was just too quick," said Riggs, the 1939 Wimbledon and U.S. Nationals winner who had beaten Margaret Smith Court on Mother's Day. "I couldn't get the ball past her."

King said, "This is a culmination of 19 years of tennis for me. I've wanted to change the sport and tonight a lot of non-tennis people saw the sport for the first time."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • King's first sports loves were baseball and softball. She fell in love with the former when her father took her to see the Los Angeles Angels play the Hollywood Stars in a Pacific Cost League game.

  • Her first taste of adulation, something she admittedly craves, was when she made a shoestring catch and doubled up a runner on third base during a girls softball game.

  • Ever the outsider, she was barred from the Los Angeles Tennis Club photograph of contestants in the 1955 Southern California Junior Championships because she couldn't afford a tennis skirt and was wearing shorts.

  • Larry King, her eventual husband and later business partner, was the first to clarify for her the situation of the woman athlete when he pointed out that, although she was a top campus athlete, she was not eligible for a scholarship.

  • In 1962, when she was only 18, King upset Court, the leading women's tennis player in the world, at Wimbledon.

  • Five years later, she became the first woman since 1939 to win the triple crown -- singles, doubles, and mixed doubles -- at both the Wimbledon and U.S. championships.

  • In 1973 she was the first woman named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated.

  • In 1974 when she took over the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis, a league she helped form, she became the first woman to coach a professional team that included men.

  • King holds the Wimbledon record for appearing in the most finals (singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles) at 27.

  • Of all the men and women to appear at Wimbledon only Martina Navratilova has played more matches than King's 265.

  • Her record at Wimbledon: 95-15 in singles (six titles), 74-12 in doubles (10 titles) and 55-14 in mixed doubles (four titles).

  • She won U.S. championships on all four surfaces on which it has been played (grass, clay, carpet and hard).

  • King has been cursed by faulty vision, a tendency toward being overweight, sinus problems that affected her breathing, and numerous knee injuries that have resulted in several operations.

  • She had her own television show, "The Billie Jean King Show."

  • In 1983 she became the oldest woman every to take a professional title when she beat Alycia Moulton at Birmingham, England.

  • While Billie Jean and Larry King divorced in 1987, but they remain friends and business partners. In fact, Billie Jean is godmother to Larry's son with his second wife.

  • She was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

  • King was captain of the U.S. teams in the Federation Cup and Olympics.

  • A binge eater since she was a teenager, King -- at 51 -- checked herself into an eating disorder clinic in 1995.

  • King, though she doesn't smoke, became a board member of the Philip Morris Co. in 1999.