This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 16.
On opening night of the 2006 US Open, amidst a festive atmosphere with a New York crowd soaking in every moment, Billie Jean King was honored in Arthur Ashe Stadium with the renaming of the US Open facility to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. At one time, the prevailing feeling was that the facility was too big and important to be named after one player. Who would it be, and why would it happen? Was any individual worthy of that soaring honor?
Those questions were answered emphatically on this memorable and surpassing evening. King was out there in her most celebratory of moods, and why not? She was surrounded by prominent speakers who were there to attest to her transcendent influence on tennis, the world of sports and, ultimately, the culture of life in America. One by one, the speakers paid tribute to King for her singularly significant contributions to the game and to women’s athletics.
Among the luminaries who found different ways to say essentially the same thing about the redoubtable King were Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors and Venus Williams, her countryman and countrywomen who all understood what she had done to boost the popularity of tennis, and to enlarge the impact of the US Open.
But perhaps the most penetrating remarks were made by the gifted orator Mary Carillo, the emcee that evening. She spoke eloquently about her friend and mentor, sharply defining who King was and why she mattered so much. As Carillo said, “She’s for the rich and the poor, black and white, straight and gay. She wants equality for everyone. She’s not just a great tennis player and a women’s libber, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind.”
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