King's name will be added to the National Tennis Center
during an opening-night ceremony at the U.S. Open, The
New York Times reported Thursday. The plan to
rename the tennis center, located in the Flushing
neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., was to be announced at a
news conference Thursday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. King;
her mother, Betty; and New York City mayor Michael
Bloomberg were expected to attend.
"This is a show of faith and respect," King told
the Times. "And with it, a sense of
responsibility. I don't think I'll ever comprehend this."
The change will take effect August 28, the start of
the U.S. Open, the newspaper reported.
The United States Tennis Association previously
honored Ashe by naming its stadium after him nine
years ago. King is honored to share her name at the
center with Ashe, the first black man to win the U.S. Open
and Wimbledon. Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS-related
pneumonia after contracting the disease through a
blood transfusion during heart surgery.
"Arthur and I are now side-by-side, and we're
both public-park kids," said the 62-year-old King, who
came out in the 1980s. "We were born the same year,
and we fought for human rights."
King, the only woman to win U.S. singles titles
on all four surfaces--grass, clay, carpet, and
hard--won a record 20 Wimbledon titles and four
U.S. Open championships. She also beat Bobby Riggs in a
nationally televised showdown billed as "The Battle of the
Sexes" in 1973, a triumph that brought attention to
Arlen Kantarian, the USTA's chief executive of
professional tennis, told the newspaper that the
association had long been exploring ways to honor
King. "You're talking about coming up with something that
measured up to the impact Billie Jean has had on
tennis and society," he said.
USTA chairman Franklin Johnson said he brought
up the idea of renaming the center for King in March.
The USTA voted unanimously in favor of the proposal
"Once it was put forward, people gravitated
toward it," Johnson said. "It was readily accepted
that we needed to honor her in this way." (AP)