For her dedication, King honored

Published August 29, 2006

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 wins 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."

Her mother never saw her play at the U.S. Open, but she sat courtside Monday 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.

Others on hand to commemorate the dedication of the 46½-acre public parks facility 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 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 Riggs.

"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 sports."

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 benefited. She's an American hero."