Billie Jean Moffitt was born on November 22, 1943 in Long Beach, California to parents Bill, a firefighter, and Betty, a homemaker.
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The Moffitt family was athletic. Bill earned a tryout for an NBA team before becoming a firefighter and Betty was an accomplished swimmer. Billie Jean’s brother Randy, born in 1948, pitched for 11 years for several Major League Baseball teams: San Francisco Giants (1972-1981), Houston Astros (1982), and the Toronto Blue Jays (1983.)
While participating in a tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club in 1955, Billie Jean was barred from a group picture of junior tennis players because she wore the tennis shorts her mother made her instead of the tennis dress traditionally worn by female athletes. She took this injustice and used it as fuel to power both her game and her future social advocacy.
Billie Jean emerged as a talent to watch when in 1958, she won her age bracket in the Southern California championship. In 1959, Billie Jean turned pro, and former women’s tennis great Alice Marble became her coach. She attended California State University, Los Angeles from 1961 to 1964, and continued to compete in tournaments while also working as a tennis instructor. She married law student Larry King in 1965.
In 1973, at the height of her competitive years, Billie Jean leveraged her position to spearhead the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association and became its first president. She lobbied for equal prize money for men and women at the U.S. Open, and a sponsor was found to level the playing field. The U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to both sexes.