Wednesday afternoon, Billy Jean King’s famous racquet used in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match was sold in New York for an astonishing $125,000. That match is still to this day considered a major cultural point in the history women’s sport and women’s rights.
Billie Jean King’s racquet sold at auction today for $125,000.
Believed to be highest price ever for a piece of women’s sports memorabilia. https://t.co/At6bjb0cil
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) December 6, 2017
For those that don’t know, the match consisted of Bobby Riggs, a former World #1 who had won six Grand Slam titles (three amateur and three professional) over the course of the late 1930s to late 40s and was later inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame. Having retired in 1951, the American found himself with a never-ending gambling addiction and love for show business.
Having been someone not too fond of women’s tennis, in 1973 he came out and said that even at 55 years old he could beat the current top female players. While he first asked Billy Jean King to play, she refused, with Riggs going on to ask the World #1 at the time Margaret Court instead. Unlike King, Court accepted and it wasn’t long until Riggs destroyed the Australian 6-1 6-2. Immediately after, Riggs being the showman and attention lover he was, he upped the stakes, offering $100,000 to any woman who could beat him.
The one-sided result of the match caused a lot of controversy considering how an old washed up man just beat the best female player in the world. Many agreed with Riggs and others that females simply aren’t as strong and fast as men to be as good and should indeed be paid less with, the men’s event being the highlight of the sport.
To the surprise of many, despite turning down Riggs’ offer not long before, Billy Jean King accepted. The 29-year-old knew she would be the massive underdog after the events of Riggs vs Court but given her involvement in the rise of women’s tennis, she knew it was something she needed to do for not only women in tennis but women in general. Riggs didn’t help himself mustering up attention after the match announcement going from attacking women’s tennis saying such things such as “I want to prove that women are lousy, they stink and they don’t belong on the same court as a man,” to attacking women outright in general by saying they only belong in the kitchen or the bedroom.
On September 20th, 1973 in front of 30,000 fans and over 50 million on TV at the Houston Astrodome, the match was finally played. While there have been claims of Riggs throwing the match away betting against himself and not taking it as seriously (due to being more interested in sponsorship deals such as wearing a jacket for a few games), it doesn’t change the result. The ten-time Grand Slam winner at the time put aside the 55-year-old comfortably, moving him all around the court and tiring the once-great man 6-4 6-3 6-3.
With all of that being said, even though the match was played over 43 years ago, it still has cultural significance in society. King herself said although it was just a tennis match, it meant much more to her as she believed a win would aid women’s tennis but more importantly women’s movement in society. Later she would go on to say if she didn’t win, women’s tennis could have taken a set back of 50 years and who knows, maybe she’s right. Had Riggs won or the match never been played, we could very well be living in a world where women’s tennis isn’t the biggest female sport worldwide.
The crazy high price of the racquet just sold, which is also considered to be the highest ever selling price for a collectible women’s sports item, adds to the point. A racquet wouldn’t be worth $125,000 without so much history and significance attached to it. It is worth noting 10% ($12,500) of the selling price will be going to the Women’s Sport Foundation, an educational non-profit charity founded by Billy Jean King in 1974 to “To advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity,” which is great to see.
The enduring history of the match was further recaptured earlier this year, when the story was retold as a major motion picture. The movie did not leave anything out, down to Riggs’ inflammatory comments.
It was only just a few weeks ago that Battle of the Sexes was released in theaters/cinemas worldwide, starring Oscar winner Emma Stone and Oscar nominee Steve Carrell. A movie which has received positive reviews and focuses more on background knowledge into both Billy Jean King’s and Bobby Riggs lives before the match leading up to the main event. Given the significance the match and Billy Jean King had on women’s rights and equality there’s no wonder a movie with A-Listers was made. And it’s no wonder that the racket from that match–rightfully so–is the most expensive piece of women’s sports memorabilia ever.
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