Franklin High School Alumni

Los Angeles, California (CA)

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Class of 1950

Class grad unknown...BOBBY RIGGS:


Thursday, September 20, 2007
Billie Jean Was Not His Lover
Today is an important anniversary for sport, for the much-neglected cause of hucksterism, and last but not least for women everywhere. On September 20th, 1973, Billie Jean King beat the aging motormouth Bobby Riggs in a made-for-TV tennis spectacle at the Houston Astrodome, a match that was known as "The Battle of the Sexes." Six months before he met up with Billie Jean, Riggs, who once had been the men's #1 in the 40's and a U.S. and Wimbledon champion, had easily beaten the top women's player in the world, Margaret Court. Though he did it with his typically maddening game of back and forth, dinks and lobs, it was still not an achievement to be sneered at - Riggs was 55 years old at the time, and Court was only three years removed from being the first woman in history to win the Calendar Grand Slam.

Of course, from there, the Bobby Riggs circus took full flight, as he proclaimed to the world, "I am the reigning Queen of Tennis. Now I want King." Billie Jean took the bait, and a boatload of cash, and the match was contested on this night thirty-four years ago on national television. King was carried onto the court in a chair borne by four muscular lads in gladiatorial garb. Riggs followed in a chariot.

Those entrances were no doubt the most interesting part of the match - what followed was a drab, limpid sort of tennis familiar to anyone who has ever played their grandfather on a windy spring afternoon. Billie Jean knew exactly what to expect from Riggs, and unlike Court, his persistent drop-shotting and lobbing didn't rattle her in the least. For her part, she didn't give Riggs any pace to work with, and just ran him side to side with mid-speed ground strokes, a strategy that left him with almost no chance of winning. Eventually he tried to serve-and-volley her but it just wasn't on with those fifty-something legs. He lost in three sets, 4, 3, and 3, without putting up much of a struggle.

It's funny now to imagine, but nevertheless, the significance of the match at the time was monumental for the cause of women's equality in both sports and society at large. To get a sense of that, you might want to check out the ABC movie When Billie Beat Bobby, which is airing on Classic tonight at 10 p.m. EST. It's not great - Holly Hunter as Billie Jean is a far worse decision than Ron Silver as Riggs (Fred Willard as Cosell is just off-the-charts preposterous) - but it manages to capture something of the environment that led to such epic flim-flammery. For myself, I've been hoping for a millennial revisitation of this concept for years now. Mac v. Serena? Christ, they'd pack the Garden at the very least. Throw Connors/Venus on there and make it a twin bill.

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