Happy 80th Birthday, Billie Jean King!
Today, tennis fans around the world are celebrating the 80th birthday of a true icon, Billie Jean King!
To say she was a trailblazer in the world of tennis would be an understatement. She won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career. In September, 1973, she beat Bobby Riggs in the legendary Battle Of The Sexes match. Just weeks prior to that match, she fought for (and won) equal pay for women in the sport of tennis. For the first time, in the 1973 U.S. Open, women would be paid the same as men. It was thanks to King acquiring a sponsor for the Open that this was even able to happen. Once it did, Australia, France, and the UK followed suit, and women were paid the same as men at all Grand Slam events. All because of Billie Jean King.
Also in 1973, Billie Jean King met Elton John for the first time, and the two would become instant friends. Two years later, Elton released a song dedicated to her and the music of our city with “Philadelphia Freedom.” At the time, Billie Jean was a player on the Philadelphia Freedoms pro tennis team. Today, she is owner of the Freedoms, who play in the World Team Tennis League.
Back in July, 2019, when the Freedoms were about to play a match in the Hagan Arena at St. Joe’s, I was asked to M.C. the pregame festivities. I immediately said “yes,” being a huge tennis fan for decades. Soon after, Lauren Waikus, an account executive at MGK who helped put this appearance of mine together, said “Oh yes, Billie Jean King will also be there. Would you be interested in interviewing her?” My one word response was, “whaaaaaaaaaaat?!?!?!” Of course I said yes, even in my gobsmacked state. You see, I became a major fan of tennis because of that Battle Of The Sexes match. Billie Jean King inspired me so much to pick up a racquet and keep practicing and playing! Of course I never became actually good at tennis, but I still love to play and see pro matches all the time, thanks to Bille Jean.
I was so nervous to meet her, but that instantly evaporated as soon as she walked into the room at Hagan. We just started chatting like old pals, even before I had a chance to start recording our convo! She was so kind, funny and honest during our talk about tennis, Elton John and the first time Elton played “Philadelphia Freedom” for her. Hope you enjoy my chat with one of the greats in professional sports. Happy Birthday, Billie Jean King!