Tennis legend Billie Jean King receives France’s Legion of Honour award on anniversary of historic win

French president Emmanuel Macron wears a dark suit and white button up shirt as he stands sideways and claps for Billie Jean King, who is dressed in a black outfit with a navy blue jacket on top. She has the France's Legion of Honour award pinned to her chest and raises her left arm in the air, and she is wearing a rainbow bracelet around her wrist

Billie Jean King was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest civilian award, as she celebrated the anniversary of her historic French Open victory. 

The tennis icon received the award in recognition of her contributions to women’s sports, gender equality and the rights of LGBTQ+ people in sport, the Associated Press reported. She was awarded her medal by French president Emmanuel Macron during a short ceremony at the Elysee Palace. 

Macron described how King had not only “revolutionised international sport” in the years since her win at the French Open in 1972 but also “equality between women and men and the rights of minorities worldwide”. 

“Your history is an American dream, one of these destinies that are almost too good to be true,” he added. 

Billie Jean King returned to the French Open’s main clay court on Thursday (2 June) for a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of her tournament title. 

Two years before her French Open win, King signed a $1 contract along with either other women players and risked her career to start the Virginia Slims Circuit for professional women players.

The Virginia Slims Circuit led to the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 with King as its first president. 

The now 78-year-old said that she is “prouder of what I have done off-court” than what she accomplished throughout her storied tennis career, which has included a total of 39 Grand Slam titles.

“I guess being the world’s number one and winning Grand Slam tournaments, including Roland Garros, is quite an achievement,” King said. “But I am proud to have fought for gender equality.”

She continued: “Tennis would be my platform and, if I could become the world’s best player, it would be better to have my voice heard.

“I knew that, as a woman, it would be much harder, but it would be even harder for my coloured-skin peers. I had the opportunity to make the world a slightly better place.

“It was a revelation – since then, it has guided my life and I have never changed course.”

Billie Jean King stands on the court of the French Open tennis championship while wearing a bright green jacket and dark bottoms. She is holding an award which contains multiple layers of sediment in a clear square container that has her name written on it in white

Tennis icon Billie Jean King was honored during Roland Garros, also known as the French Open, on June 2, 2022 in Paris, France. (Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty)

Billie Jean King made history after she dominated in 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” exhibition match against Bobby Riggs. Their match drew 90 million viewers and helped launch women’s tennis into the limelight.

In 2020, King was among over 170 current and former athletes in women’s sports who signed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of trans girls and women playing sports.

Other prominent signings included World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe, WNBA trailblazer Candace Parker, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Duggan, Layshia Clarendon and Katie Sowers.

“There is no place in any sport for discrimination of any kind,” King declared. “I’m proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love.”

She continued: “The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes – including LGBTQI+ athletes.”