King won 39 Grand Slam titles, but her contribution to women’s athletics was about far more than tennis matches. She advocated for and achieved equal pay for women at the U.S. Open, championed the women’s pro tennis tour and, in a televised 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match, decimated Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, and 6-3 before an estimated 90 million viewers. She bought her first tennis racquet at age 11 for $8 and was the first woman to earn more than $100,000 in a single season (1971). She’s the first woman to have a major sports facility named after her —the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, home to the U.S. Open. In addition to fighting for women’s rights, King — who came out as a lesbian in the early 1980s — has also served as a staunch advocate for gay rights.
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