With 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt, it’s easy to see that tennis champion Billie Jean King has been an ace on the court. But she’s not just a decorated athlete — she’s a cultural icon. During her show, “A Conversation With Billie Jean King,” at Tilles Center’s Hillwood Recital Hall in Brookville on Thursday, King, 73, will discuss her 50-plus year career followed by a Q&A session with the crowd.
While some might be aware of her Wimbledon wins and U.S. Open victories, King is multifaceted and her life reflects that. Here are seven interesting facts you might not know about her:
EMMA STONE WILL PLAY HER IN A FILM
Later this year, “Battle of the Sexes,” centered on King’s infamous 1973 match against male tennis pro Bobby Riggs will be released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Stone portrays King, while Steve Carell takes on the role of Riggs.
“When they told me Emma Stone was playing me I thought it was unbelievable. She is one of my all-time favorites — an A++,” says King. “We are friends now. She just texted me today.”
SHE WAS NAME-DROPPED IN ‘PEANUTS’ STRIP
King was close to the late cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, who would often drop her name in the dialogue between his “Peanuts” characters Marcie and Peppermint Patty.
“It was so cute. In one strip he said, ‘I’m going to call Billie Jean King.’ He was a very shy man. I knew that meant, ‘Would you call me, Billie?,’ ” says King. “I’d call him. He’d say, ‘How did you know I wanted you to call me?’ I said, ‘I think it was pretty loud and clear.’ We got along great.”
ELTON JOHN WROTE A SONG FOR HER
King and John met at a party in 1973, introduced by his manager since both were initially too shy to approach each other. They became fast friends and she even inspired one of his hits.
“Elton wrote ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ for me in 1975 because he used to watch me play team tennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms,” King says. “He would wear our uniform in the crowd, scream and put his fist up. He’d get crazed.”
HOW SHE WAS OUTED
King is a lesbian who kept her private life private until she was outed in a palimony suit by her former partner Marilyn Barnett in May 1981. It was an explosive revelation at the time.
“I had to respond, so I told the truth. Most people would have said, ‘No way.’ It was very frightening,” King says. “I lost everything in 24 hours — endorsements gone. I had to start over.”
HAS A PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM
In 2009, Barack Obama presented King with the award for her achievements in the tennis world as well as in the LGBT community.
“It meant a lot because I was the first woman athlete [to receive one],” says King. “Congressman John Lewis got his that day. Harvey Milk received one posthumously. It was an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with those guys.”
A STADIUM COMPLEX IS NAMED AFTER HER
The USTA’s tennis center in Queens was renamed the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006.
“That news was a shocker. I couldn’t believe it,” King says. “It makes me feel like I have a humongous sense of responsibility.”
SHE FOUGHT A LONG TIME FOR EQUAL PRIZE MONEY
From 1968 to 2007, King battled to make sure women got equal pay to men at the four major Grand Slam tennis tournaments. After 39 years, she got it done.
“The U.S. Open was the first to step up. It took a while to get all four majors,” King says. “Women still don’t make as much money on the overall tour. . . . We still have a ways to go.”
Billie Jean King
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 at LIU Post’s Hillwood Recital Hall, Tilles Center, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville
INFO 516-299-3100, tillescenter.org