Billie Jean


Billie Jean, by Billie Jean King with Kim Chapin, New York: Harper & Row, 1974, 208 pp., $6.95.

"You've got to read this—you're Dagny Taggart," a friend said giving Billie Jean King a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The book had a profound effect on Billie Jean. She learned from it why her love of tennis was a source of both strength and weakness; and why her success bred envy and hatred. It helped her cease worrying whether she was "helping tennis" or acting from self-interest. And it enabled her to even stop "having to justify the money" she made.

For Billie Jean, Atlas Shrugged was the summation of a career that had seen her rise from one-of-the-crowd to the best in tennis; from poverty to prosperity; and from a good-goody ball of fluff to a hardcore women's liberationist.

And it was the prelude to the current stage in her career, which has seen her become a successful entrepreneur and perhaps the most famous woman athlete in history. The whole intriguing story is in her book:

• Billy Jean the tomboy: "I was wearing a blouse and a nice pair of tennis shorts mom had made for me. Neat, but Perry Jones had this rule: Little boys wore shirts and little girls wore dresses, and that was that."

• Billie Jean on marriage: "I like being a career woman and I love being an athlete.…There's simply less and less reason for any woman to tie herself down with marriage and kids if she doesn't want to.…"

• Billie Jean on winning and losing: "Victory is fleeting, but losing is forever, and that makes all the difference. Defeat is something I just can't seem to get rid of. It never leaves my insides."

If you're a tennis buff, you'll probably enjoy the fascinating vignettes of Rosie Casals, Ilie Nastase, Virginia Wade, Nancy Gunther Richey, Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Maria Bueno, Maureen Connolly, Margaret Smith Court, Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall—and a host of other top tennis players.

And you'll probably enjoy the story of Billie Jean's rise to the top of the tennis world; her fights with the USLTA; her struggles to make the Virginia Slims circuit pay out; Wimbledon; Forest Hills; Bobby Riggs, and quite a few more.

One of the photographs in the book shows Billie Jean just after winning her third United States Open at Forest Hills. In the photograph she's holding an enormous trophy aloft and, ever so casually, sticking out her tongue. That photo—typifying her excellence and her independence—tells you what Billie Jean is all about.

O. Rosner is a long-time REASON reader who likes to walk, read, and watch ballet.