NEW YORK -- Billie Jean King made quite a name for herself
on and off the court, all around the globe.
On opening night at the U.S. Open, the tennis world took care of
that for her.
King, a winner of 39 career Grand Slam titles, was honored
Monday night when the home of the U.S. Open was renamed the USTA
Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The champion in singles,
doubles and mixed doubles made an equally -- if not more important
mark -- as a pioneer for the equality of women.
In addition to 67 singles win on tour, King earned a monumental
victory for women's rights by beating Bobby Riggs in the 1973
"Battles of the Sexes" match at the Houston Astrodome. The
importance of that event was felt around the world.
King was responsible for organizing the Women's Tennis
Association, a union that lobbied for equality in tennis.
"My mom, Betty Moffitt, always told me to follow the
Shakespeare saying, 'To thine own self be true,'" said King, as
she became emotional on the court while her mother cried in the
stands. "I hope to continue to always do that."
"I don't think it's a stretch to say that Billie Jean King is the single most important person in the history of women's sports."
-- John McEnroe
Her mother never saw her play at the U.S. Open but she sat
courtside Monday night when King was lauded by such tennis
luminaries as Chris Evert, Venus Williams, John McEnroe, and Jimmy
Connors -- who like King were champions at New York's Grand Slam.
Also on hand to commemorate the dedication of the 46½-acre
public parks facility to King were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg
and former Mayor David Dinkins. Diana Ross sang "Ain't No Mountain
High Enough" before introducing King to the crowd inside a packed
Arthur Ashe Stadium.
McEnroe, who said he first met King as a teenager at the home of
friend Mary Carillo -- a former player and TV commentator-- had a
different take on King's trailblazing efforts and her win over
"I was a 14-year-old, male-chauvinist kid that hoped that Bobby
Riggs would kick her [butt]," McEnroe said. "But now that I am a
father of four little girls, I have to say for the record I'm glad
Billie Jean King won.
"I don't think it's a stretch to say that Billie Jean King is
the single most important person in the history of women's
Evert credited King with guiding her throughout her playing
career and in personal matters. She even served up advice when
Evert broke off her youthful engagement to Jimmy Connors.
"Billie Jean was the biggest single influence in my life
outside of my family," Evert said. "She's been my mentor for 35
years. She sees beyond the box."
Arlen Kantarian, the USTA chief executive of professional
tennis, said it was an easy decision to honor King this way.
"Billie Jean King is a great champion, but she's used her
success to do a lot more than impact the sport," Kantarian said.
"She's impacted society. There are thousands of kids who have
"She's an American hero."
King, a product of the Los Angeles public parks system,
emphasized that although the tennis center now bears her name, it
is still a public parks facility that is open to everyone, every
day of the year.
"My house is your house. This is our house," she said.