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Billie Jean King celebrates, continues to change tennis

By Greg Lee, KESQ News Channel 3 Reporter & Sports Anchor, glee@kesq.com
Published On: Mar 12 2013 08:08:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 12 2013 10:16:00 PM CDT
INDIANS WELLS, Calif. -

Tennis royalty stopped by the BNP Paribas Open.  Billie Jean King forever changed women's tennis, paving the way for the athletes at this year's tournament and beyond.  "I decided I'd dedicate the rest of my life to equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women," said King.

Billie Jean King, 69, reflected on her huge contributions not only to tennis, but gender equality.  The legend and 8 other trailblazers, called the "Original 9" revolutionized the game and signed the first professional contracts in 1970. Just three years later, the Women's Tennis Association was founded.  "It was really for future generations," said King.  "We wanted any little girls, and young girl that was born if she was good enough, that she could make a living playing tennis."

Now in 2013, the WTA celebrates its 40th anniversary.  More than 2500 players represent 92 nations, and compete for more than 100 million dollars in prize money-- something King always envisioned.  "We dreamt it we started it, but you're living it," said King.  "They're making millions of dollars, they have financial security we never had, Serena made as much money in one tournament as I did my whole career."

King's also celebrating the 40th anniversary of her win the "Battle of the Sexes."  King defeated Bobby Riggs, an outspoken chauvinist, not only a monumental win for women, but for the sport itself.  "Tennis exploded at the grassroots level after Bobby and I played," said King.  "Also the women, and men got huge television contracts, that they hadn't had before, it was really about social change too."

You would think King could rest now, but she's still pushing the game she loves.  Her other project, World Team Tennis enters it's 30th season.  A co-ed professional tennis league featuring 8 teams and some of the biggest stars in the game.  "I think anytime you can have professional teams in cities, any place people can see tennis live, is absolutely paramount," said King.  "I love team, I grew up in team sports, I think anytime a child gets into tennis they should get into a team.  We should get rid of the word lesson."

She still has no intention of stopping anytime soon. "I'm living large, I've had a great life and I've got a lot left in me," said King.