By TennisGrandstand.com Staff
President Obama gaffed at Wednesday’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony honoring 16 global citizens, including tennis legend Billie Jean King. In describing King’s illustrious playing career, Obama talked of King’s “12 Grand Slam titles, 101 doubles titles and 67 singles titles.” King’s total number of “major” titles actually stand at 39, including a record 20 at Wimbledon. In defense of Obama, King won 12 singles titles at Grand Slam tournaments, but King was well known if not best known for dominating all events at the majors, including winning “triple crowns” (singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles in the same year) at Wimbledon in 1967 and 1973 and the U.S. Championships in 1967. According to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, King also won an additional 37 singles titles in the “amateur” era of tennis (pre-1968).
In a video after the ceremony shown on the MSNBC television show “Morning Joe,” King joked that Obama got her stats wrong but said with class that it was “adorable.” Joked MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle of Obama undercutting King’s credentials, “It’s the first time he has come under the numbers.” The video of Obama’s remarks and Billie Jean’s reaction can be seen here -
King’s bio from THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS is excerpted here….
Billie Jean King
United States (1943—)
Hall of Fame—1987
The fireman’s daughter, Billie Jean Moffitt King, began blazing through the tennis world in 1960 when she first appeared in the U.S. women’s rankings at No. 4. She was 17. For more than four decades she has continued as a glowing force in the game—the all-time Wimbledon champion, frequently the foremost player, a crusader in building the female professional game (enhancing the game as a whole), remaining relevant to sport today, an inspiration to millions. The Flushing Meadows home of the U.S. Open was named the USTA / Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006.
Born Nov. 22, 1943, in Long Beach, Calif:, Billie Jean, a 5-foot-4 1/2, 130-pound right-hander, was named for her father, Bill Moffitt, a Long Beach fireman and an enthusiastic athlete, though not a tennis player. Her brother, Randy Moffitt, became a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. She developed on the public courts of Long Beach and first gained international recognition in 1961 by joining 18-year-old Karen Hantze for a surprising triumph in the Wimbledon women’s doubles over Aussies Margaret Smith (Court) and Jan Lehane, 6-3, 6-4. Unseeded, they were the youngest team to win it. That was the first of 20 Wimbledon championships, making King the record winner at the most prestigious tourney, sharing it since 2003 when her friend Martina Navratilova caught up. Centre Court was her magic garden from the first time she saw it in 1961.
In 1979, she got the 20th at her 19th Wimbledon, the doubles, in the company of Navratilova (over Betty Stove and Wendy Turnbull, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2). She won her last major, the U.S. doubles, in 1980, beside Martina, over Pam Shriver and Stove. Elizabeth Ryan’s 19 Wimbledon titles (between 1914 and 1934) were all in doubles and mixed doubles. King won six singles, 10 doubles, and four mixed between 1961 and 1979, and in 1979 lengthened another Wimbledon record by appearing in her 27th final, the doubles. Ryan was in 24 finals. Of all the men and women to compete at Wimbledon only Navratilova played more matches (279) than King’s 265, of which B.J. was 95-15 in singles, 74-12 in doubles, 55-14 in mixed. She won 12 singles titles at major championships (one Australian, one French, six Wimbledon and four U.S.)
In her initial singles major final, Wimbledon in 1966, she beat three-time champ Maria Bueno of Brazil, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, She followed up by beating Ann Jones of Britain in 1967,6-3, 6-4 and Judy Tegart (Dalton) of Australia, 9-7, 7-5, in the first “Open” Wimbledon in 1968. In 1967, she took her first U.S. singles over Jones, but the most rousing of the four was 1974, a pyrotechnical performance from two assault-minded dolls, over Evonne Goolagong of Australia, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Probably her most memorable Wimbledon match was a loss, the record 46-game 1970 final to Court 14-12, 11-9. Neither let up in attacking, even though both were playing hurt.
Billie Jean’s has been a career of firsts. In 1968, she was the first woman of the Open era to sign a pro contract to tour in a female tournament group, with Rosie Casals, Francoise Durr and Jones, the women’s auxiliary of the NTL (National Tennis League), which also included six men. (A few women before King had turned pro to make head-to-head barnstorming tours, notably Suzanne Lenglen in 1926.)
In 1971, B.J. was the first woman athlete over the 100-grand hurdle, winning $117,000. During that memorable season, she played 31 tournaments in singles, winning 17, and 26 in doubles, winning a record 21. She had a match mark of 112-13 in singles, a record number of wins, and 80-5 in doubles. Overall, it added up to 38 titles on 192 match wins, both records. Imagine how many millions such a campaign would be worth today.
In 1973, Billie Jean engaged in the widely ballyhooed “Battle of the Sexes,” defeating 55-year-old ex-Wimbledon champ Bobby Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, a nationally-televised lallapalooza that captured the nation’s fancy and drew a record tennis crowd, 30,472, to Houston’s Astrodome.
In 1974, she became the first woman to coach a professional team containing men when she served as player-coach of the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis, a league she and her husband, Larry King, helped establish. As a tribute to her, Elton John composed and recorded Philadelphia Freedom. Traded to the New York Apples, she led that team to WTT titles in 1976-77 as a player.
Ten years after Riggs, BJK was to establish a geriatric mark herself, winning Birmingham (England) over Alycia Moulton, 6-0, 7-5. At 39 years, five months, she was the oldest woman to take a pro singles title.An aggressive, emotional player, Billie Jean specialized in serve-and-volley tactics, aided by quickness and a highly competitive nature. She overcame several knee operations to continue as a winner into her 40th year. As a big-match player, she was unsurpassed, excelling in team situations when she represented the U.S. In nine years on the Federation Cup team, she helped the U.S. gain the final each time, and take seven Cups by winning 51 of her 55 singles and doubles. In the Wightman Cup against Britain, she played on only one losing side in 10 years, winning 21 of her 26 singles and doubles.
Outspoken on behalf of women’s rights, in and out of sports—tennis in particular—she was possibly the most influential figure in popularizing professional tennis in the United States. She worked tirelessly to promote the Virginia Slims tour during the early 1970s when the women realized they must separate from the men to achieve recognition and significant prize money on their own. With the financial backing of Virginia Slims, the organizational acumen of Gladys Heldman and the salesmanship and winning verve of King, the women pros built an extremely profitable circuit.
Only two women, Margaret Smith Court (62) and Navratilova (59) won more majors than King’s 39 in singles, doubles and mixed. In regard to U.S. titles on all surfaces (grass, clay, hard court, indoor), King is second at 31 behind Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman’s 34. But Billie Jean is the only woman to win on all four, equaling Tony Trabert, and Art Larsen, the only men to do so. King and Casals were the only doubles team to win U.S. titles on all four surfaces. She won seven of her major doubles with Casals, her most frequent and successful partner.
Between 1963 and 1980, Billie Jean was in the world’s Top 10 18 times, including five times as No. 1(1966-67-68, 71, 74) and four times as No. 2 (1970, 73, 75, 77). She held her last world ranking, No. 13, at age 40 in 1983.
She greatly aided Owen Davidson of Australia in making his mixed doubles Grand Slam in 1967 with two partners. King and Davidson won the French, Wimbledon and U.S. after he took the Australian with Lesley Turner. She scored three major triples, winning the singles, doubles and mixed at Wimbledon in 1967 and 1973, and at the U.S. in 1967, and won the longest singles set played by a woman (36 games) in a 1963 Wightman Cup win over Christine Truman, 6-4, 19-17.
Billie Jean’s major swan song occurred at 39 in 1983 at Wimbledon, a semifinal finish (her fourteenth), losing to 18-year-old Andrea Jaeger, 6-1, 6-1. Seven years later she played a cameo role in the Boca Raton, Fla., tourney, winning a doubles match with 13-year-old pro rookie Jennifer Capriati.
In a career encompassing the amateur and Open eras, she won 67 pro and 37 amateur career singles titles, 101 pro doubles. She reached 38 other pro singles finals and had 677-149 singles W-L record as a pro. Her prize money: $1,966,487. Divorce ended her marriage. A founder and ex-president of the WTA, she remains active in World Team Tennis as an officer, formerly commissioner. She returned to her USTA roots in 1995 as captain of the Federation Cup team, having been player-captain in 1965 (a loss) and 1976 (a win). She guided the U.S. team to three Cups (1996, 1999, and 2000). As U.S. women’s Olympic coach, she mentored Lindsay Davenport, Gigi Fernandez and Mary Joe Fernandez to gold medals in 1996, as well as Venus and Serena Williams to golds, and Monica Seles to a bronze in 2000.
MAJOR TITLES (39)—Australian singles, 1968; French singles, 1972; Wimbledon singles, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1975; U.S. singles, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974; French doubles, 1972; Wimbledon doubles, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1979; U.S. Doubles, 1964, 1967, 1974, 1977, 1980; Australian mixed, 1968; French mixed, 1967, 1970; Wimbledon mixed, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1974; US. Mixed, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1976. OTHER U.S.TITLES (18)—Indoor singles, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1974; Clay Court singles, 1971; Hard Court singles, 1966; Indoor doubles, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1975, with Casals; 1979, with Navratilova; 1983. with Sharon Walsh; Clay Court doubles, 1960, with Darlene Hard; 1971, with Dalton; Hard Court doubles, 1966 with Casals; Indoor mixed, 1966, 1967, with Paul Sullivan (USA) FEDERATION CUP–1963-64-65-66-67,76-77-78-79,25-4 singles, 27-0 doubles: WIGHTMAN CUP—1961-62-63-64-65-66-67, 70, 77-78, 14-2 singles, 7-3 doubles SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Australian (17-4), French (21-6), Wimbledon (95-15), U.S. (58-14).