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Women’s Tennis Pioneer Billie Jean King Honored

Tennis star Billie Jean King is among this year’s honorary degree recipients


Each year at Commencement, Boston University singles out people from all walks of life who have contributed to society, and bestows on them an honorary degree. Among this year’s recipients is tennis legend Billie Jean Moffit King.

King learned to play tennis on the local public courts of her hometown of Long Beach, Calif. By the time she was 17, she had gained international recognition in the sport by winning the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon with partner Karen Hantze Susman. In 1966 King won the first of six Wimbledon singles titles.

She was a leader in the movement to bring professionalism and gender equity to her sport. She won the U.S. Open in 1972, but received substantially less than the men’s winner. Because she threatened to boycott future tournaments, the next year the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to men and women.

During her career, King won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tennis titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon. In a 1973 exhibition match against former top men’s player Bobby Riggs, a worldwide television audience saw her trounce Riggs, who had been loudly asserting in the media that women players were inferior, beating him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

She played a central role in the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and Women’s Sports Magazine. In 1974, she cofounded World TeamTennis, the groundbreaking professional league for men and women players.

King has created foundations that help enhance the lives of women of all ages and that promote health, fitness, education, and social change to benefit men and women across a variety of issues. She continues to be a leader in the fight for equality in many areas, especially on behalf of those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

She has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2006, the National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, was renamed the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in recognition of her contributions to tennis, sports, and society. She was named one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine.

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