SBJ/May 23-29, 2011/Events and Attractions

Billie Jean King honored at SBA

Nearly four decades after beating Bobby Riggs in arguably the most important sports event of the 20th century, Billie Jean King says men and women still come up to her with tears in their eyes to thank her.

The recipient of the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from SportsBusiness Journal/Daily, King told the packed Sports Business Awards show last week that she is particularly proud of the effect the match had on today's 40- and 50-year-old men, who want equality for their daughters.

When King beat Riggs in the famous Battle of the Sexes matches, she pointed out, women couldn't even get credit cards on their own.

The pressure was immense on her to win, as if all of the feminist movement's burdens fell on her shoulders.

"I still wake up thinking I have not played that match," she said, noting that she is quickly relieved when she realizes it is long over.

King, of course, has done much more than defeat Riggs. A tennis hall of famer, she founded the WTA Tour and World TeamTennis and has long been an advocate for kids playing sports.

She thanked in particular the late founder of IMG, Mark McCormack, and the late Roone Arledge, the ABC Sports head who put the Battle of the Sexes match on the air. She also thanked her partner, Ilana Kloss, the CEO and commissioner of WTT.

Chris Evert, who introduced King, said of her onetime rival and longtime friend, "She is very unselfish and is the wisest person I know." King has even given child-rearing advice to Evert, the star recounted, even though King has no kids. And King, Evert added with a laugh, was always somehow right.

Leaving the stage, King made clear she's not finished with her life's work.

"If you are wondering," she said, "I am not done yet."

Highlights Of The Achievements Of Billie Jean King

  • Founder of the Women's Tennis Association (1973)
  • Founder of the Women's Sports Foundation (1974)
  • Founder of World TeamTennis (1974)
  • Became the first tennis player and first female athlete to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (1972)
  • Life magazine named her one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century (1990)
  • Recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (1999)
  • USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (2006)
  • Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama (2009)

— Compiled by Brandon McClung

Chris Evert was the surprise presenter of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Billie Jean King. Ellen Merlo of Philip Morris (third photo, middle) was cited by King as a major influence in the sponsorship of women's sports.

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