August 26th, 2013
This ESPN magazine piece on the Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” match is amazing, and full of stuff I never knew about the match. Such as:
Four months earlier, Riggs had crushed Margaret Court, the world’s No. 1 women’s tennis player, 6-2, 6-1, in an exhibition labeled by the media as the “Mother’s Day Massacre.” Court’s defeat had persuaded King to play Riggs. Nearly everyone in tennis expected a similarly lopsided result. On the ABC broadcast, Pancho Gonzales, John Newcombe and even 18-year-old Chrissie Evert predicted Riggs would defeat King, then the No. 2-ranked woman. In Las Vegas, the smart money was on Bobby Riggs. Jimmy the Greek declared, “King money is scarce. It’s hard to find a bet on the girl.”
But by aggressively attacking the net and smashing precision shots, King ran a winded, out-of-shape Riggs all over the court. Riggs made a slew of unforced errors, hitting soft returns directly at King or into the net and double-faulting at key moments, including on set point in the first set. “I don’t understand,” Cosell said after a King winner off a Riggs backhand. “He’s been feeding her that backhand all night.”
Like I said, I never knew any of that. Maybe you did. But I bet you’ll never guess where all of this is going: Riggs threw the match to get out of a hole with mob men. It’s an amazing story.
And the one person in it who refuses to believe is King. But I guess she kind of has to. That’s the match that put her name on the U.S. Tennis Center.
So Riggs nets a cool million in alimony from his heiress 2nd wife but just a year later has to embark on a disgraceful cockeyed scheme to clear his debts–now that’s equality.
Speaking of History’s winners/losers Margaret Smith Court became an Aborigine-proselytzing gay-marriage-denouncing evangelical minister in Oz, whom local Prod/Catholic media types occasionally slam as extremist
Riggs vs. King was one of the first public events of which I took any notice. And lo these many years later, I learn it was a fraud? How am I supposed to trust anything that’s ever been presented to me as true? Forget whether Oswald killed JFK, why should I believe that JFK was ever president, or even lived?
I was a teenager at the time and remember thinking wow this guy Riggs is completely outmatched.
The evidence that he threw this match, if true, just goes to show that he was not just having a bad day, nor was he merely an inferior tennis player, but a lowly pathetic loser.
I wonder if having his debt paid off was worth the ignominious legacy.
Maybe it was one of these “you had to be there” things, but I never understood why Billie Jean King at the height of her powers beating old, tired Bobby Riggs was that big a deal to begin with.
[…] story is filled with fascinating nuggets. Like JVL, I hadn’t realized that Riggs trounced—just absolutely crushed, in straight sets, […]