Tag Archives: Billie Jean King

My Top 10 favorite athletes of my lifetime. Coach K does a fantastic “Black Lives Matter” video. And R.I.P Carl Reiner, a damn funny guy

So I did a fun exercise on Facebook the other day, one of these things where a friend “tags” me and challenges me to do one of those cool lists they had just done.
And I had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I’d share it here. My Top 10 favorite athletes of my lifetime. Would love to hear your input as well, dear readers:
1. Roger Federer: Huge surprise, I’m sure, to find him on my list 😊 Simply the most beautiful tennis player I’ve ever seen, and the greatest. Watching him compete in his prime is the most pleasure I’ve ever had watching a single athlete. He may not end up as the greatest Grand Slam champion of all time (pretty sure Novak Djokovic will pass him), but that’s OK, he’s still the greatest to millions of fans.
2. Mark Messier: Another shocker on my list, I’m sure. My all-time favorite team has only one championship in my lifetime, and he delivered it in 1994. When he arrived in New York in 1991, he completely transformed the franchise. An incredible captain and leader, Mr. Clutch had the best game by a Ranger I’ve ever seen, Game 6 against the Devils in 1994, when the Blueshirts absolutely had to win.
The picture of Messier when he first takes the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman is one of ultimate joy; I’ve never seen a human being happier than he was at that moment.
3. Don Mattingly: My first sports hero. Younger people forget just how awful the Yankees were for much of the 1980s, but Donnie Baseball was always someone we could look up to. The lefty swing, the Gold Glove at first base, the incredible 1985 season when he almost won the Triple Crown … he was sensational.
4. LeBron James: Just an absolutely incredible athlete, and an even better humanitarian. On the court he is, in my opinion, the greatest basketball player of all time. Has had a dominating career, scoring, rebounding, passing and lifting his teams to three championships, including an improbable one for the starving Cleveland fans in 2016.
But his impact off the court has been even bigger. He built schools, he’s giving every kid in Akron who goes to his academy free college, and he’s taken on social issues and causes way, way more than other athletes of his generation have.
5. Billie Jean King: I’m cheating a little here because her career ended before I learned my ABC’s, but she’s always been a hero and idol of mine for so many reasons. A trailblazer and pioneer in women’s sports, she championed so many causes that were unpopular, and took on the sexist male hierarchy for decades. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her in real life a few times, and she has absolutely lived up to her reputation.
6. Shane Battier: My all-time favorite Blue Devil. Just a fantastic leader, all-around player and the most entertaining interview subject I ever had the pleasure of meeting. His defensive plays in the 2001 title game against Arizona were all-timers. When I covered him in the late 1990s at Duke he always sent us scrambling for our dictionary after post-game chats.
7. Usain Bolt: The most exciting athlete I’ve ever seen. I can’t describe the feelings of watching him in the Olympics: It was like seeing a person who was 2-3 levels more evolved than anyone else. His incredible 100-meter and 200-meter performances in Beijing were mind-blowing; he slowed up in one of the races at the end and STILL set a world record.
8. Curtis Martin: There is so much misery and sadness associated with my favorite NFL team, but for a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we got to see an all-time great. One of the very few Jets who never let me down, No. 28 was always so dependable, so elusive, and such a good teammate.
9. Henrik Lundqvist: The King. One of the best goalies in the history of the NHL, he singlehandedly kept the Rangers in so many playoff series, winning a bunch of them they had no business winning. He’ll never get a Cup, but man did he get close in 2014.
10. Martina Navratilova: On the Mount Rushmore of women’s tennis, she revolutionized the sport by being stronger and fitter than everyone else. I loved watching her play, and her courage in defecting from Czechoslovakia, and in coming out as a gay athlete long before it was accepted, will always make her a hero of mine.
**Next up today, I meant to share this powerful video on Monday but I forgot. I’m always proud to be a Duke fan and call Mike Krzyzewski a coach I greatly admire, but maybe never more so than after watching this video.
Three minutes of pure brilliance, in support of the Black Lives Matter Moment.
Just sensational.
**And finally today, a few words about Carl Reiner, whose magnificent life sadly came to an end Tuesday at age 98.
Reiner is maybe one of the funniest people who ever lived; the creator of so much great comedy. He created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” did sensational stuff with Mel Brooks, directed “All of Me,” a truly underrated classic film, and much, much more.
By all accounts, Reiner was a decent man as well: Humble, gracious and kind to the end.
Michael Schur, a comedy writer and creator of “Parks and Recreation,” wrote this lovely tribute to Reiner, and if you need a good laugh today, I posted the famous “2,000 Year Old Man” sketch above.
The world is slightly poorer without Carl Reiner in it.

Finally, a little pushback on NSA spying. Obama with brilliant choice to head Olympic delegation. And the year in photos is fabulous

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If it seems like the National Security Association has been doing whatever the hell it damn pleases since 9/11 without any pushback, well, they have.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s finally been a line drawn in the sand. On Monday a federal judge declared the NSA’s phone call data-mining system unconstitutional.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” said Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Amen. Unfortunately, Leon’s ruling only applied to the case in front of him, but let’s hope it’s a precedent. It amazes me how many American citizens seem to be fine with the NSA doing whatever it wants “in the name of preventing terror.”

It is wrong, wrong, wrong to run roughshod over our civil liberties like the NSA does, and I have a feeling that thanks to Edward Snowden we’re going to be learning about even more heinous activities in the months and years to come.

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**Next up, haven’t linked to one of these in a while, but this is fantastic. The Big Picture, the photojournalism site of the Boston Globe, has put out their best photos of 2013, and there are so many amazing ones here.

Two of my favorites are at the top of this post and above (the little boy among the big boys made me laugh out loud).

Peep the whole gallery here.

**Finally today, I got a real good smile Tuesday night out of this story. We all know how incredibly anti-gay Vladimir Putin has made Russia in recent years, and a major story in the upcoming Winter Olympics will be that nation’s intolerance, and how gay athletes are treated in Sochi.

So with this such a hot button issue, who did Barack Obama appoint to lead the U.S. Delegation at the Olympics? Billie Jean King, legendary tennis player, and Caitlin Cahow, a female hockey player.

Both proudly, openly gay.

No idea if Obama was intentionally poking dictator Putin with this, but you’d have to think so, right?

A great honor for both women; thrilled to see BJK on a world stage like this, where she richly belongs.

Billie Jean King, a true American hero. The joy of tipping a waitress $200. And how far Rocky Balboa really ran in “Rocky II”

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Billie Jean King is one of the most important figures of the 20th century, and I really don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

She’s one of the 10 greatest tennis players of all time, but that’s almost secondary to why she’s so important.

King c0-founded the women’s pro tennis tour, and was a driving force in the feminism movement overall in the 1970s, and beyond. She was out front on every major women’s battle, in sports and otherwise, and showed guts and courage that few others did back then.
The National Tennis Center in New York, where the U.S. Open is held, bears her name, and it’s likely that no one has done more to further the awesome sport of tennis more than King.

Billie Jean has long been a hero of mine (I was lucky enough to interview her twice in my journalism career, and she was as friendly and intelligent as she has always seemed), and it bugs me that she sometimes gets forgotten when the list of trailblazing women get discussed.

But lately she’s been everywhere, and for good reason: Friday is the 40th anniversary of the famous King-Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” match (seen above), which psychologically did so much for the women’s equal rights movement in America.
If you somehow don’t know what I”m talking about, or are too young to know what it was, Bobby Riggs was a former top tennis player who, by 1973, was just a 55-year-old, washed-up showman.

Reading the culture of the moment, Riggs decided to put on a persona as a male chauvinist, and challenged King and the world’ No. 1 player at the time, Margaret Court, to play him in tennis.
King said no, but Court agreed. And then got waxed by Riggs, 6-2, 6-1.
After that, King knew she had to play Riggs, and their match was a spectacle like sports had never seen before.
What was at stake? Plenty. But King destroyed Riggs in straight sets, which countless women over the years, from Hillary Clinton to Gloria Steinem to average women on the street, have said was a major blow for equality at the time. (There was a high-profile story by ESPN writer Don Van Natta Jr. recently that alleges Riggs lost the match on purpose to settle gambling debts. It’s a fascinating tale, but I don’t buy it.)
Following her tennis career, King was outed as a lesbian by a former lover, and become a major champion of gay rights for the past 30 years.

PBS’ fabulous “American Masters” show has a new documentary out about King, and I watched it the other night: Truly great stuff.  She’s a pioneer who battled against the system time after time, and never stopped fighting.

I think the 40th anniversary of her beating Riggs is a wonderful time to acknowledge her; the PBS documentary will be airing all month on PBS stations, but the entire show is here on PBS’ website.

**Next up on Good News Friday, this was really sweet: Two guys named Stuart and Andrew had heard that waiters in Utah make only $2.13 an hour in salary, with the rest made up in tips (sounds impossible, but true).

So they found a few good waiters and wanted to see what the reaction would be if they left them $200 tips.

The expression on the woman’s face near the end is priceless.

**Finally today, not sure this qualifies as “good news” but it made me smile since it’s about one of my favorite movie scenes of all time, the final running scene in “Rocky II,” when our boy Rocky Balboa sprints through the streets of Philadelphia while every kid in the city runs behind him.

A blogger at Philly Magazine decided to figure out just how far Rocky ran, if it was a real training run. The answer? Like 30 miles! Check out the explanation here; I thought it was hilarious.

12 hours at the U.S. Open make me deliriously happy. And a political video that may move you

I turned 37 two weeks ago.
And yet, every single time I walk through the gates of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, I turn back the clock 30 years.
I become a 7-year-old again. I want to do everything, see everyone, and run around like a kid set loose in Willy Wonka-ville, for as many hours as they’ll let me stay.

Tuesday, that number of hours was 12. My fiancee, my mother, and stepfather all arrived around 11 a.m. for a sensational day of tennis, the second day of the 2012 Open (God bless her, my wonderful bride-to-be stuck it out with me until 9 p.m. and was a total trooper as I schlepped her around from court to court, only leaving because she had to go home and do some work. Mom and stepdad pooped out around 4 p.m. But hey, they’re no spring chickens anymore. I digress.)

Many, many thoughts on my mind from today as I sit down to write this, including…

— The single best thing about the Open in the early days of the tournament is getting to walk around the outside courts and literally stand five feet from where top pros are competing. You don’t get that in ANY other sport.
At one point Tuesday I was in the first row for a doubles match involving great American comeback story Brian Baker, and a serve ricocheted off a racket and flew right at me.
With the dexterity and timing I rarely showed in the Commack North Little League, I snagged it with my left hand, drawing a few cheers from my fellow spectators. Sadly, as is the rule in tennis, I had to throw the ball back to the ballboy.

— Speaking of ball boys and ball girls, how bizarre is this? During my match tour on Tuesday (I saw parts of 12 matches), I saw not one but two ballpersons who had prosthetic limbs. One male, one female, both who seemed to have no trouble bouncing around and performing all ballperson duties. Never seen a ballperson without two natural legs, and now I saw two in one day. Crazy.

— Another awesome moment: After the aforementioned doubles match featuring Brian Baker, I was on line for the bathroom near the court and saw a white-haired guy with a “Player guest” credential and the last name Baker. Yep, it was Brian Baker’s Dad Stephen, and because I’m me, I chatted him up before we got to the urinals.
He was super nice and thrilled his son was getting the chance to play at the Open again.
Again, I ask you: You think you ever run into Derek Jeter’s dad waiting to pee at Yankee Stadium? This is why the U.S. Open rules.

— Most dramatic singles match we witnessed Tuesday was between two players you’ve never heard of, Fabio Fognini and Edouardo-Roger Vasselin. Again on an outer court, we watched the end of the fifth set, both players fighting for a few thousand dollars a win would provide. It was competition at its finest, and the 75 or so people huddled around the fence watching were enthralled.

— Jack Sock. I’ve mentioned his name a few times on the blog before (he’s on the right, above), and the young American phenom (he’s 19) scored a huge win in doubles Tuesday, as he and partner Steve Johnson beat the No. 1 seeds. This kid is a future star; he won his first singles match Monday and is back in action Thursday.

— Really impressive wins from famous people: Jo-Willie Tsonga, Venus Williams (though that dress was, um, weird) and Andy Roddick. Impressive win from a future star: Sloane Stephens (above in photo). She can really, really play and has a great personality.

Bad losses: Christina McHale, a young American ranked No. 21. Blew a winnable match.

— Finally, cell phones and tennis matches. People, is it really that hard to turn the damn thing to vibrate when you go watch a tennis match? Three times Tuesday a phone went off during a point. Just makes me mad.

But only for a moment. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re a kid in a candy store. God I love the U.S. Open.

**OK, time for something else. This was definitely unusual; a political parody video set to the tunes from “Les Miserables,” about Barack Obama. Weirdly compelling.

A historic sports anniversary goes sadly unnoticed by most. An unfortunate intern injury. I am outraged by the Troy Davis case

One of the most important anniversaries in sports was Tuesday, Sept. 20.
It’s an anniversary I feel particularly strongly about, because I have met the woman involved several times and found her to be one of the classiest, most heartfelt people I’ve ever met.
On Sept. 20, 1973, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a tennis match that was kind of like a day at the circus. It was played at the Houston Astrodome, where 45,000 people attended, and to say it was a hugely important day for women’s rights, and women’s athletes, is an understatement.
It’s easy to look back now and marvel at how it was such a big deal that 29-year-old woman in her athletic prime could whip a 55-year-old man on the court. (And I love the cheesy commercial above, which I found randomly on YouTube. God bless the Internet).
But it was a big deal. There were plenty of people back then who didn’t think King would win. But she did, easily.
Like I said, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing King a few times over the years, and she was nothing but gracious, eloquent, and kind. I would make the argument that she was the most influential female athlete/leader of the 20th century, and thanks to her millions more women were treated as serious athletes as the 20th century’s final decades rolled on.
So 38 years later, every female athlete playing today owes a small debt to Billie Jean King, truly a legend of our time.

**Here’s what can happen when you’re on the field at an NFL game. This poor intern for the New York Giants, Ryan Brown, was standing behind the end zone, minding his own business Monday night, when Giant Michael Boley scored a TD and tried to throw the ball over the cameraman. And he, eh, showed why he’s not a QB: (Boley later apologized to the kid).

**Maybe you’re familiar with the case of Troy Davis, a Georgia man sentenced to the death penalty and scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.

Despite there being literally NO physical evidence, despite seven of nine eyewitnesses re-canting their testimony against him, despite there being NO evidence of any crime being committed against police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Ga., in 1989, the state parole board denied Mr. Davis clemency on Tuesday.

This is the country we live in. This is what happens when you have an irreversible act like the death penalty as an option.

The state of Georgia is about to execute a man who is very likely innocent. And the blood on the hands of everyone involved should leave a permanent stain.
Meanwhile, Rick Perry and his “fans” are probably standing and cheering right now.