KTLA-List: Tennis Great Billie Jean King

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BJK-THUMBLOS ANGELES (KTLA) — Winning 39 grand slams including 20 Wimbledon titles — there’s no arguing the legendary Billie Jean King scores as tennis’ most preeminent player.

But off the court, the Long Beach native is known as “the” champion for social change and gender equality.

She not only broke records, but Billie Jean King broke barriers.

It was her undoubting dedication and driving force behind Title IX — the federal law that guarantees women equal access to school sports — that revolutionized athletics not only in the U.S., but around the world.

She’s the woman who changed the world of tennis and the face of sports forever.

We wanted to know what inspired the icon growing up in Southern California. KTLA 5’s Chris Schauble volleyed with the hall of gamer on Wednesday’s KTLA-list.

Back in 1973, more than 40 million people tuned in to watch the memorable match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes,” where King beat tennis champ Bobby Riggs in thee straight sets.

King’s crusade for equality revolutionized athletics across the nation.

When asked what inspired her as a child, she answered “…trying to get equality like everyone deserves.”

“No one should be discounted by their color, sexual orientation, gender…any of these things,” she said.

King was born in Long Beach. Her father was a firefighter. Her mother was a homemaker. She was into sports, but tennis wasn’t her first pick.

“Tennis was my last sport,” she said. “I loved basketball, softball, baseball, football. Tennis was the last thing I got into.”

Her parents suggested tennis as a more “lady-like” sport. After she saved enough money ($8.29) to buy her first racket at 12-years-old, she fell in love with the game playing at Southern California’s public parks.

“We’re lucky we had a park system,” she said. “That’s what I hate about hearing California is broke.”

“Look at all the children that come out of the public park system and not just what we achieve, but a lot of them are good citizens in life and the world. Not only did we achieve, but we are good people.”

And after King perfected her powerful swing, she used the court as her court.

“I started thinking about our sport, tennis,” she said. “White shoes, white balls and white people. I asked myself, at 12-years-old, where is everybody else?”

“I thought from that day forward, if I ever make it in tennis and be No. 1 — and I wanted to be No. 1 — I knew I would dedicate myself to equal rights to girls and boys. That’s been my life.”

And that’s why she considers “World Team tennis” her ace.

“It started in 1974,” she said. “At least two men and two women on each team. We play a set of men and women singles, doubles.

“It’s equal. Equal contributions by both genders on an equal playing field. It’s very competitive and very tense and competitive but it’s fun.”

Billie Jean King has come a long way since Long Beach, but says don’t count her grand slams in life out just yet.

“When you look back at all that you have accomplished, what do you want men and women to think?” she said. “I’m not finished yet that what I want them to think she’s older but not finished.”

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