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BOTH THE FIRST WOMAN AND FIRST TENNIS PLAYER TO WIN THE AWARD (WHICH SHE SHARED WITH JOHN WOODEN), THE WOMEN'S SPORTS PIONEER WON THE FRENCH OPEN, WIMBLEDON AND THE U.S. OPEN
Nearly four decades later not a day goes by when Billie Jean King isn't greeted by a new face eager to chat about her epic Battle of the Sexes victory over Bobby Riggs. But the fame she earned from that 1973 match and from 12 grand slam singles titles was never an end in itself. "My goal was always that tennis would be a platform," says King, "so I could work on trying to create equal opportunities for boys and girls." The year after she beat Riggs in the nationally televised showdown at Houston's Astrodome, King founded the Women's Sports Foundation to advance women's lives through athletics, and she has since collected honors ranging from the Presidential Medal of Freedom (left) to having the National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, renamed for her. When not running World Team Tennis, the league she also launched in '74, King serves on the board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and speaks out on gender equality; one of her growing concerns is the shrinking proportion of males enrolling in U.S. colleges. She also addresses audiences from elementary schoolers to women's tennis pros about their potential to further social progress. King's message? "Stay connected to the past," she says, "but also [ask], How are we going to shape the future?"
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 2003
SI RECOGNIZED BIG MEN ROBINSON AND TIM DUNCAN FOR THEIR EXEMPLARY TEAMWORK IN LEADING THE SPURS TO A SECOND NBA TITLE AS WELL AS FOR THEIR SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY
When representatives from San Antonio--based Admiral Capital Group target a new community in which to develop commercial real estate, they turn to the same powerful presence who helped the Spurs win two championships: Robinson, the company's cofounder, who was nicknamed the Admiral when he played for the Naval Academy. "He opens every door for us," says cofounder Daniel Bassichis. "It brings a lot of excitement to what is normally a boring business." The company is part of what Robinson (left) calls his "bigger-picture" approach to giving back, having begun as a means of funding the Carver Academy, a school in east San Antonio that he established in '01 with $10 million of his money. What began as a private institution for 60 students now serves 300 and earlier this year became a charter school in partnership with IDEA, a charter system in Texas. That designation allows Carter to receive state funding to cover operations, freeing up financial support from Robinson and others for building more schools or providing college scholarships. "I can tell you a thousand stories," Robinson, 47, says, but "when you meet these kids, you see the value in affecting just one life, one family."
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1958
IN AWARDING THE HONOR, SI ACKNOWLEDGED JOHNSON FOR SETTING THE DECATHLON WORLD RECORD AND THE "ALL-AROUND DECENCY" THAT HELPED EARN HIM THE UCLA STUDENT BODY PRESIDENCY
Back in the late 1940s, when Rafer Johnson was starring for Kingsburg (Calif.) High, his track coach offered encouraging words a cynic might have dismissed but ones that stuck with him: "Be the best that you can be." During his four years at UCLA and over an Olympic career in which he won gold ('60) and silver ('56), Johnson learned that to reach such a level required the help of others, including coaches and fellow athletes. And in '68, when he attended the first Special Olympics in Chicago and met the organization's founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he found a determined fellow believer. "I saw it come to life so vividly in Mrs. Shriver," says Johnson, 77. Inspired, Johnson founded Special Olympics Southern California the next year and has since helped the chapter grow from 3,000 athletes in '70 to 11,600 today, while the Special Olympics itself has swelled to some 3.7 million participants internationally. But Johnson (left, at a 2004 Olympic ceremony), who is still on the SOSC board and calls the awarding of medals "one of the great joys of my life," hopes to see participation double or triple. "I want to be a part of that legacy," Johnson says. "The Special Olympics is going to be a lifetime effort for me."