This month, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the (in)famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Well, women celebrated. Men are still cringing, possibly rightly so considering some recent allegations.
The match took place in September 1973 at the Houston Astrodome in front of what is still the largest crowd ever to see a live tennis match (more than 30,000 fans) and 100 million more watching on television around the world.
I specifically remember sneaking a portable black-and-white TV into a back room at work to watch the match. (Note to current boss: I would never do that now.)
Boy, were we all suckers! We fell for all the hype — hook, line and sinker. King won the match in three straight sets, which surprised everyone, even considering she was the reigning Wimbledon champion, and Riggs was a 55-year-old former champion who came out of retirement to make a quick buck.
I’ve always thought the match was rigged. (Sorry ... couldn’t resist.) Only a few months earlier, Bobby had easily defeated Margaret Court, the No. 1 female tennis player in the world at the time.
It became even more unfathomable when, a few months later, Jimmy Connors met Martina Navratilova in a truly “fixed” match, in which Connors was given only one serve, and Navratilova was allowed to use the doubles alleys. That would be akin to having Nolan Ryan go up against Reggie Jackson and being allowed to throw his fastball at only 50 mph and having the foul lines moved back 20 feet in both directions!
Even with that handicap, Connors won.
Heck, I could beat Serena Williams if you made her play with a badminton racket and one hand tied behind her back — and blindfolded, wearing a hazmat suit. (Well, maybe not, but it would be fun to try.)