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It's not a stretch to say that every professional female athlete who doesn't have to hold down a day job has Billie Jean King to thank. And also that girls who find a level playing field in sports today owe her a debt as well.
When Billie Jean Moffitt, 17, the daughter of a Southern California housewife and a fireman, first went to Wimbledon in 1961, local Long Beach tennis enthusiasts helped pay her travel costs. She proceeded to dominate the tournament for the next two decades. King founded the Women's Tennis Association in 1973 and, that same year, whupped former pro Bobby Riggs in the sensationalized Battle of the Sexes. Title IX, the ban on gender discrimination in public schools, had just passed, and as King explains, "I wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation."
Gaining equality would become her life's work: She went on to found the Women's Sports Foundation, an organization that has raised more than $125 million to advance girls' and women's participation in physical activities.
King, 69, may have had knee replacements, but otherwise is fit and enjoying life, thank you very much.
King says she hopes her legacy will be a society modeled after the World TeamTennis circuit she created: "Men and women competing together on the same team with equal contributions from both genders. That is what I want the world to look like."