The racquet used by Billie Jean King in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs sold at auction Wednesday afternoon for $125,000, believed to be the highest price ever paid for a single piece of women’s sports memorabilia.
The racquet was part of Bonham’s “Voices of the 20th Century” auction held in New York.
The match, held with much fanfare and on prime time TV, pitted King, the most successful women’s tennis player of the time against Riggs, a former star on the men’s tour and self-described “male chauvinist.”
The drama on the court echoed the ongoing struggle against inequality in the 1960s and 70s, and was recently the subject of the film, Battle of the Sexes (2017), starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs.
“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,” King said of the $100,000 match. “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.”
King prevailed in straight sets, and her victory encouraged change: it lent major support to the recently passed Title IX (the landmark U.S. law requiring gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding), bolstered the recently formed Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and led to King’s founding of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
10% of the proceeds of the sale of the racquet will benefit the Foundation.
King had originally donated the racquet for a charity auction to benefit the foundation in 1982. It was purchased by Bonham’s consignor in 1996.