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Nice Column by George Vecsey on Billie Jean King & the National Tennis Center

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by JR, Aug 29, 2006.

  1. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    I post it because it's a Times Select and links won't work. Admirable move by the National Tennis Center. And a nice tribute to her first coach Clyde Walker. She's truly a class act.
    IT is a public place, despite all the corporate logos arranged around the stadium and the shrimp-eaters munching away in the luxury boxes.

    Quite appropriately, the National Tennis Center was renamed last night for a woman of the people named Billie Jean King, who has never forgotten her roots as a kid following a coach named Clyde Walker from one park to another.

    Looking quite chic in black slacks and jacket — “I’m one of the suits now,” she had said wryly — King, 63, thoroughly enjoyed the evening ceremony, when the entire complex was officially renamed the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

    King was backed up by four American champions — Venus Williams, Chris Evert, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors — all of whom described how King shared her zest and knowledge.

    “She gave me advice when I broke up with Jimmy Connors,” Evert told the crowd, with her old beau standing a few feet away. And now that Evert is married and has three sons with Andy Mill, she said King “gave me advice on how to raise kids — and she doesn’t even have any.”

    Billie Jean has been a goad for equal pay and an inspiration for Title IX legislation that advances women’s sports. She makes it clear that her drive comes from the public courts.

    In a morning conversation, King brought up her first coach, Walker, who gave clinics in five different public parks in Long Beach, Calif., in 1955, when she was 12. The lessons were free. She just had to get to them.

    “I started showing up every day at the different parks,” King said in a 1988 interview with The Los Angeles Times. She added that Walker “started looking at me, like, ‘Are you back again?’ ”

    “I’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s go,’ ” she said. “He knew he had a live one.”

    Well, yes, that sounds like her. A live one. We’ve all seen that gleam from her 67 singles titles, the intense smile behind the glasses that said, “Isn’t tennis fun?” We’ve seen that desire when she carried a live pig as a present for the flaming male chauvinist, Bobby Riggs, before beating him in the legendary Battle of the Sexes in 1973.

    What is Riggs, from his vantage point in the afterlife, making of the renaming of the complex for his old opponent? “Bobby is going to say he’s responsible, which is fine,” King said with a laugh, adding: “He did make a big difference in my life. He’s another one.”

    But Clyde Walker was the coach who got her started. “She’d stay at the courts all day long and Clyde would bring her home,” Louise Walker, the aging widow of Clyde Walker, recalled in 1988.

    Walker was a public-parks employee who made a living from mass instruction, but he found time for the live one who worked her way to the front row, taking it all in. Teachers live for that look.

    “It always comes back to coaching,” King said yesterday. “Clyde Walker at Long Beach. From him, I wanted to be the best in the world.”

    These were bootstrappers, living on her father’s firefighter salary, not a lot more affluent than the people in Corona, just outside the gates of the King center. She has often recalled how she had to scrounge for $8 to pay for her first racket, the cheapest one she could find, which happened to be of a lavender hue.

    Betty Moffitt, who was present at the ceremony last night, sewed the shorts her daughter would wear for her first tournament in Southern California, not knowing that a skirt was mandatory. A suit of his day, Perry T. Jones, ordered the girl from Long Beach to stay out of the group photo. He wanted all the players to have that country-club look. “The shorts day, my mother was horrified,” King once said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, Mom, he’ll be sorry someday.’ ”

    In 1961, Billie Jean skipped her graduation from high school to play at Wimbledon, where she and Karen Hantze won the doubles.

    “Clyde was dying of cancer,” King said yesterday. “He gutsed it out until we won the doubles.” King would move on to become a self-motivated whirlwind who still values the lessons of her first coach.

    “Now, Clyde Walker for me is a hero,” King said yesterday, adding, “For me, personally, how he touched my life is so important.”

    She mentioned Walker again during the ceremony last night, after a song by Diana Ross and an introduction by Mary Carillo. King volunteered her joy at being connected to the main stadium, named for her friend, Arthur Ashe, and the second stadium, named after Louis Armstrong. And she put in a plug for the Mets’ new stadium to be named after Jackie Robinson.

    Naming the entire complex after a tennis hero is a brave act by Arlen Kantarian, the U.S.T.A.’s chief executive for professional tennis, and Franklin Johnson, the association’s chairman. They gave up millions of dollars of potential naming rights in order to honor a woman from the public courts, but in doing so they also raised a note of idealism.
  2. Freelance Hack

    Freelance Hack Active Member

    King's dead on -- the new Mets stadium should be named after Jackie Robinson.
  3. Guy_Incognito

    Guy_Incognito Well-Known Member

  4. Freelance Hack

    Freelance Hack Active Member

    Because stadiums shouldn't just be revenue and sponsorship generators. They should be shrines to the pioneers who led the development and evolution of their games.

    Take, for example, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

    It doesn't matter that Jackie Robinson never played a game for the Mets. What he did and accomplished happened in New York, and if there's a stadium to be named for him (which there should), that's where it should be.
  5. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    I wonder what the "new" Yankee Stadium will be called.

    I hope nothing--just Yankee Stadium.
  6. Guy_Incognito

    Guy_Incognito Well-Known Member

    How about Yankee Stadium? It's nice that he did what he did in NY, but he did it as a Dodger, not a Met. Why should the Mets, a private company, name their new stadium after a guy who has nothing to do with them. Go corporate & avoid taxing the public or if you're paying for it yourself, name it whatever you want, up to & including Wilpon Stadium (Stengel? Seaver? Doubleday? New Ebbets?). Jackie did what he did for the City (the Interboro is named after him) the Dodgers (anything?) & the league (who overdid it by retiring the # league-wide). Why the Mets?
  7. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Re: Nice Column by George Vecsey on Billie Jean King & the National Tennis Cente

    Jackie Robinson's got 30 jerseys retired in his name. Spread the wealth. In fact, I'm for the owners of the place to name it any damn thing they please.
  8. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Re: Nice Column by George Vecsey on Billie Jean King & the National Tennis Cente

    Billie Jean King = most important female athlete in American sports history

    Am I correct?
  9. Vic Mackey

    Vic Mackey Member

    How about Althea Gibson?
  10. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Re: Nice Column by George Vecsey on Billie Jean King & the National Tennis Cente

    I am totally reaching, but I don't think that women in sports really takes hold in the 1970's without (Title IX) and BJK. For sure, women tennis players, who make millions, owe her and her peers a serious debt of gratitude.

    Gibson had more "firsts" but I don't see her having the same impact. Maybe just a function of the media when she was in her prime.

    To boot, King was a fantastic player.

    I'm not going to the wall with this argument, since its not my area of expertise.
  11. Sam Mills 51

    Sam Mills 51 Well-Known Member

    Good thing. Wilma Rudolph and Babe Didrikson Zaharias would also belong the argument. Nothing against what Billie Jean King accomplished - it was incredible - but the I know Zaharias belongs somewhere in the argument, and I don't think Rudolph should be swept under the rug.

    Back on topic, a great piece by George Vecsey. Thank goodness he keeps the surname from sinking in the muck. His book, "A Season In The Sun," was great - a good influence for a youngster wanting to get into sports media.
  12. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Re: Nice Column by George Vecsey on Billie Jean King & the National Tennis Cente

    King spearheaded the launch of the Virginia Slims tour, which has been without a doubt the most successful women's professional league in American history... I'd say that's pretty important.

    Early advocate for women's rights, as well as gay and lesbian rights..

    I don't think the other women have had the impact. Just my two cents.
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