Just one month after tennis legend Billie Jean King saw her dream of erecting a statue of African-American tennis trailblazer Althea Gibson unveiled at the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York, the icon herself is being honored this weekend. And not just once, but twice.
King had lobbied and pushed the USTA for over 20 years to honor Gibson. In her remarks on August 27, King called Gibson, “The Jackie Robinson of our sport.” Now her hometown of Long Beach, Calif., and her home team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are recognizing her incredible achievements.
In July, the Long Beach city council voted to name its new main library after a favorite daughter who conquered the local courts as a girl and then conquered tennis as a woman with 39 Grand Slam titles. King will return to Long Beach to personally christen the building at its grand opening on Saturday September 21st. She toured the building for the first time Wednesday.
King told reporters she equates this honor with receiving the Medal of Freedom in 2009. In her remarks that day one decade ago, she made note of the Long Beach community, telling the Washington Post, “I share this honor with the people of Long Beach.”
In an interview with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, King said her remarks then “pretty much sums up what I’m feeling” about having a library named after her.
“I still can’t believe it,” King noted. “It’s overwhelming.”
The library is a state-of-the-art facility and a new home for more than 300,000 volumes as well as the latest in library technology. King said she wanted the space to mirror the values of inclusion that she fought for as an athlete and an activist.
“The Main Library is going to be a gathering place,” King said, “where people come together. My thoughts always turn to, ‘What can I do for Long Beach? I’m thinking about the librarians and what I can do for them.”
After the morning unveiling, King’s “win streak” continues that night at Dodger Stadium, where the team will host the Colorado Rockies. Tens of thousands of fans will go home with a unique memento of their team’s minority owner: a Billie Jean King bobblehead doll.
The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their seventh straight National League West championship on September 10th, with a 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. It is the earliest the Dodgers have clinched a division title in team history.
The Bobblehead is the second miniature tribute to King released this year. Last month, a toy company started selling a $20 action figure, with 5% of all proceeds benefiting the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a non-profit King founded with her partner Ilana Kloss. BJKLI promotes equality in the workplace through global forums, workplace research on diversity and a biennial leadership conference bringing global corporations and universities together to discuss raising the next generation of business innovators.