Billy Jean King Honored on Opening Night

August 30, 2006 11:53 AM

The USTA National Tennis Center was officially renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in a special on-court ceremony during Opening Night festivities of the 2006 US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I still don't really understand this, and I'm trying to figure it out,” said King while addressing the media prior to the event, recounting a life shared in close contact with friend Arthur Ashe. “When Arthur got named, it was easier to understand that for some reason. But when it's yourself, its like, ‘Wow.’ I don't really understand it.”

Fellow tennis greats and earnest admirers Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Venus Williams all paid tribute to King, with each making a speech to honor the legend of tennis and pioneer of equal rights for women in sports.

Legendary pop diva Diana Ross, a long-time favorite singer of King, swayed the record crowd of 23,736, singing a soulful rendition of, “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” and a heart-felt version of “God Bless America.”

But the star of the night was King, who addressed the adoring crowd, which included a rare appearance by her mother, Betty Moffitt, with an inspirational speech before the official dedication took place.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chairman of the Board and President of the USTA, Franklin R. Johnson, and Arlen Kantarian, USTA Chief Executive, Professional Tennis, then joined King on center stage to unveil the special plaque bearing the tennis center’s new name.

Before the night was through, King couldn’t resist calling attention to the fans and supporters by heading over to those that lined the front row of the court and embracing them.

“This is really for everyone, and I don't know, I'm not sure the public's aware of that yet,” said King, a long-time champion of public tennis courts and facilities.

“I truly hope tonight with the naming people really start to think about this area and the complex here that continually improves, that they will start to use it more and more. This really does belong to the people, and I think that's important."