A genuine veteran of the Battle of the Sexes is holding court with us this morning: She’s BILLIE JEAN KING, and she’s talking with our Lee Cowan:
If you’re old enough to remember it, in 1973, you probably watched it: Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs — man vs. woman — a spectacle that captivated the nation.
More than 30,000 attended the match held in the Houston Astrodome. “I think they thought it was going to be a tennis match, so it was going to be sedate or something,” King said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be sedate!”
Even Howard Cosell was almost beside himself: “It’s like ‘Monday Night Football.’ It’s not the usual tennis atmosphere. It’s a happening!”
The match lived up its hype, which was really saying something. Bobby Riggs, once the number one tennis player in the world, served up male chauvinism (“Don’t get me wrong; I love women, both in the bedroom and the kitchen”) like it was second nature … and it was.
At a press conference he held with King, Riggs said of female athletes, “And now when they can’t even do it half as good, they still want the same kind of money. This is ridiculous. That’s why I got involved in this thing in the first place.”
King countered: “Without the women, he wouldn’t have these opportunities.”
He was insufferable, and yet in 1973 he had plenty of fans, including, surprisingly enough, King herself.
“When he starts getting like that, I think it’s adorable,” she told Cowan.
“But all that bravado, it didn’t eat away at you?”
“No! I think it’s cute. I think it’s entertainment. It’s great.”
“But did you really think he believed that stuff?”
“Yes. He did.”
And King was the perfect foe for Riggs. Tennis was her life; she first picked up a racquet in Long Beach, California, at age 11 — and never looked back: “My mom came to get me, and I jumped in the car. And I said, ‘Mom, mom, this is it, this is it.’ She said, ‘What do you mean this is it?‘ And I said, ‘I found what I’m going to do with my life. I’m going to be the number one tennis player in the world!'”
“You said that that day?” Cowan asked.
“That day. Done. And my mom goes, ‘You have homework, and piano.’ My mom kept us absolutely grounded,…