BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973.
Lot 1068
BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973.
Sold for US$ 125,000 inc. premium

Voices of the 20th Century

6 Dec 2017, 13:00 EST

New York

Lot Details
BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973. BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973. BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973. BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973. BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The tennis racquet used by Billie Jean King during her epochal match against Bobby Riggs, September 20, 1973.

Wilson "Billie Jean King Autograph" tennis racquet, of wood, tape, leather and catgut, 27 x 9 x 1 ¼ inches. Soiling to leather handle from use, minor chips and scratches; with DVD of Billie Jean King: American Masters (PBS, 2013).
Provenance: Billie Jean King, donated and sold for charity auction to benefit the Women's Sports Foundation, 1982; purchased by the present owner in 1996.

ORIGINAL BILLIE JEAN KING TENNIS RACQUET USED IN THE MATCH THAT DEFINED A GENERATION. On September 20, 1973, Wimbledon Champion Billie Jean King played a $100,000 purse best-of-five match against former Wimbledon and U.S. Champion Bobby Riggs in "The Battle of the Sexes." Played in the Houston Astrodome in front of more than 30,000 fans, with another 48 million people watching at home, the spectacle captured the imagination of America, pitting colleagues and couples against each other in a "battle" that echoed the ongoing struggle for equality both in the stadium and in the stands. The previous year the controversial Title IX had been signed into law, establishing a bar for equality in women's collegiate sports, but while women's liberation had been gaining ground, inequality remained everywhere: in 1972 Margaret Court won the Grand Slam earning a bonus of $15,000, while a similar bonus on the men's circuit would have been over $1,000,000. So while the atmosphere surrounding the match has sometimes been described as carnivalesque, with King entering the Astrodome on an Egyptian litter carried by four young men, and Riggs dressed as a Sugar Daddy for the first three games, the stakes in terms of public perception were very real, and King certainly felt the pressure, looking back she said: "I felt like the whole world was on my shoulders, and if I lose it's going to put women back 50 years at least."

A stiff underdog in the press and in Vegas, King won in straight sets, quieting critics and inspiring supporters. Her victory lent major support to the existence of Title IX, bolstered the recently formed Women's Tennis Association (WTA), and led to her founding the Women's Sports Foundation, which the sale of this racquet will benefit. But more than those immediate effects, the match inspired a generation of young girls to compete both on the field and off and showed a generation of young boys that women were equals. While the 1960s are widely thought of as the decade of change, the early 1970s represented the "feminist moment" in American culture, 1972 saw the Equal Rights Amendment passing both houses of Congress in 1972, Shirley Chisholm's run for the Democratic nomination, the founding of Gloria Steinem's Ms. Magazine, and the passage of Title IX, followed by Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Amidst the turmoil and the opportunity, King's resounding win provided a signpost for the times. In the words of Olympic Swimmer Donna De Verona, "...it was a worldwide movement that needed a finishing statement. And Billie Jean King gave that to us." According to King, "Our dream was for any girl in any place in the world, if she were good enough, to have a place to compete and make a living. We knew it wasn't about our generation, but it was about the future generation."

Already one of Wilson's most desirable racquet lines, this Billie Jean King Autograph model skyrocketed in sales after the match. It is one of only two racquets used by her during her epic match, and the only one whose whereabouts are currently known.

A PORTION OF THE PROCEEDS WILL BE DONATED TO THE WOMEN'S SPORTS FOUNDATION

Saleroom notices

  • The racquet was restrung before being offered in Billie Jean King's original Women's Sports Foundation Auction.
Activities
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  1. Ian Ehling
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Bonhams
    Work
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