Playbook: Billie Jean King
Wisdom from the most compelling women in sports
By Mark Adams
People ask me what's the one thing I remember about the 70s. I was tired. Always tired. Every morning I sleep in now; it's because of the 1970s. I averaged four hours of sleep a night for years.
I took Martina [Navratilova] and Chris [Evert] to do weights for the first time in 1977. Together. To a little place on 64th and 2nd [in New York City] . We all got along well. Still do.
The Battle of the Sexes triggered everybody's emotions. I felt so much pressure. I thought it was life and death. The height of the women's movement was 1973, you had Roe v. Wade, Vietnam cooling down, Watergate heating up. Things were crazy. People questioned their own gender, the opposite gender, the relationship between the two. Everybody thought Bobby [Riggs] was going to win.
The mint-green Ted Tinling dress is in the Smithsonian. They took it right away. They didn't have security [on the courts] at the Astrodome, and after the match George Foreman ran out of the stands to escort me off the court.
Men who saw that match as boys come up to me daily. I call them the first generation of men of the women's movement. They're the ones who insist their daughters have equal opportunitiesa huge phenomenon that people haven't paid much attention to.
Do young women tennis players ever thank me for the things I've done? No.
I tell fathers that they really don't know the impact they have on their daughters. It's very important to tell them they're beautiful, they're good, they're strong, they're fast. It's like an imprint on their souls that never leaves them.
We should never compare women's sports with men's sports. When people say, 'Oh, the WNBA...' Just don't do that. Where was men's basketball in 1950?
If I'm going to do a franchise sandwich, I like a BK Broiler.
The one thing about being a great athlete is you never, never think about winning during a match. When you do you're in big trouble. As soon as you think, 'I've got this guy, I'm up 4-2 in the second...' you're dead meat. I can't tell you how many players do that.
The two things I want to do are learn to play the piano and speak Spanish.
Court sense is given to you. You know how they used to say Larry Bird knew where every guy was on the court? I think that's a gift.
I never had a good forehand. Actually I had a nonexistent one. Now, at 57, I have a very good forehand.
I don't care about anyone's sexuality. Being dedicated to my truth is a daily thing, because truth can change. I've been heterosexual, I'm a lesbian, for a long time I was bisexual. I'm glad that we're more accepted, but we really aren't in some ways.
People sometimes say, 'You should have come out like Martina.' They forget: Martina was going to be outed by a newspaper. I wasn't sorry for being outed; I was sorry because I was married, and I believe in monogamy.
Choice of shot equals talent. Most people never get that.
Could I be number one today? If I had been born later. With my game then? No way. Players are so much better every generation. I'd be small, but if I was 22 now, I'd be like [Martina] Hingis. I'd be much more aggressive though.