Billy Jean did beat Bobby Riggs
Forty years have passed since Billy Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at the Houston Astrodome. Now in my 80’s the years have passed to swiftly. Or as my pal Jerry Berger says, “Today is Saturday, and yesterday was Monday”. These days that is prophetic.
However, for me, it is a bittersweet time. I spent a great deal of my professional life working on events at the Astrodome, or “The Dome” as it was called.
At the time, it was considered the 8th Wonder of the World. Judge Roy Hofheinz had brought about a miracle of technology. He had put a playing surface as well as many other things under one roof eliminating the debilitating humid heat of Houston and thus allowing 50,000 fans to sit in comfort attending an event.
Regular inhabitants were the Houston Oilers of the AFL/NFL, the Colt 45’s of MLB, countless championship fights, many featuring Muhammad Ali, Truck Pulls, Motorcycle Races, Daredevils galore and even the first ABA v. NBA All-Star Game. It was a happening place where the mean temperature was always 65 degrees.
To me, as to many others, it was one of the foremost venues where we plied our wares. Now, it is about to be razed. Personally, I think it should remain in the least as a National American Historic Site.
When it goes, countless memories will go with it and will be lost to the ages. Among the great memories that I share with millions worldwide , is Billy Jean King’s momentous victory over Bobby Riggs.
The millions in worldwide viewing audience saw Billy win 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. It was decisive! It changed the role of women competitors in sports forever.
The victory brought about major changes regarding a woman’s place in the sports firmament. Laws were enacted in school sports as well as purses being increased when there were women’s events in the same tournament. In fact, it brought about a Domino effect toward equality in all sports.
However, there are always naysayers who now 40 years later insist that they are sure Bobby Riggs threw the match. Shame on CNN, among those casting a finger at Bobby and tainting the event that CNN for quoting Doug Adler ,an erstwhile tennis pro, who states on camera, “after the match all tennis pros felt Bobby had thrown the match”.
First of all, this is hearsay. The man quoted, I know well. He once worked for me as a tennis announcer. Actually, his mother Phyllis once was one of California’s finest tennis players. Hearsay is not a factual report.
CNN also quotes a Locker Room Attendant who while working a country club forty years ago, supposedly over heard supposed members of the Mafia planning to get Bobby to throw the match.
It’s a shame that 40 years later when most memories are fuzzy, a top news organization stoops to hearsay tainting a great American event of worldwide importance.
It’s true, Wimbledon Champion Bobby Riggs was a tennis hustler. I interfaced with him on a few occasions. One time that I remember well is when I came out on business from the East to California and wanted a game. The pro at the Beverly Hills Hotel suggested that my pal, the late Hal Golden, the man who invented the Tennis Carryon Bag, and myself play Bobby.
We did not know that the player lounging at the side of the court with a torn tennis shirt, in need of new sneakers, was Bobby Riggs. Reluctantly, I went first. I won three sets with ease. Then he wanted to play for money. I begged off, but not Hal. Hal won a couple of sets. Then Bobby said, “ let’s play double or nothing”. It was an expensive day for Hal.
My pal and partner for years, Tommy Cook had come to me after the now defunct L.A. Tennis Open in 1972 wanting to match Bobby against Billie. I disagreed. Jack Kramer was the bigger name and as an official at the Tournament, he created bad blood between Billie and himself. I wanted to set up a grudge match.
Jack had bad hips and begged off. Tommy immediately signed Bobby and Billie for the match. Promoter Jerry Perenchio stepped in and the event became reality.
Billie Jean was magnificent that night. It was a brilliant circus atmosphere with tension everywhere. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends were all on opposite sides.
When Billie won, the world was shocked. However, not my friend Tommy Cook, he knew differently. While Billie Jean was taking the contest seriously, training hard, Bobby with absolute cockiness sure he was going to win, was busy partying. On the day, of the event, he was hung-over.
However, as Tommy has said it made no difference. It would have been Billie’s victory even if Bobby had been in the best of shape. Larry Riggs, Bobby’s son, with whom I played some doubles echoed Tommy’s statement.
After the event, Tommy and I had a most successful series on CBS-TV, Challenge of the Sexes. It ran for five years!