2021 Eastern Hall of Fame: Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss
The 34th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held Friday, August 27, 2021. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—benefit the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here. Below, read our profile on 2021 inductees Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, who together as partners have established a long legacy of advocacy for gender equality in sports and beyond.
When it comes to making an impact both on and off the court, few have contributed more than Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.
On the court, King was ranked No. 1 in the world in both singles and doubles, won 39 Grand Slam titles (12 singles, 16 doubles, 11 mixed) for third on the all-time list, and is the first woman to earn more than $100,000 in prize money in a single year. In 1970, she was a leading member of the “Original 9,” a trailblazing group of nine women who took a stand for gender equality in tennis and are responsible for creating the women’s pro tour and bringing more prize money to the women’s game. Three years later, King defeated former men’s No. 1 Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match, which was considered a major moment for women’s rights in sports.
King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the US Open honored her by renaming its facility the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Later, she became the first woman to have an annual global team sports event named after her, when the Fed Cup was rechristened the Billie Jean King Cup. She has also been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame twice—in 1987 for her legendary career, and this past July as a member of the Original 9.
Kloss has many on-court accolades of her own. The South-African born lefty was the No. 1 doubles player in the world in 1976 and reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 19 in 1979. She won two Grand Slam titles in 1976—the US Open women’s doubles and French Open mixed titles—and is a two-time Wimbledon over-35 doubles champion. She also won the girls’ singles titles at 1972 Wimbledon and the 1974 US Open before turning pro. Kloss captured the gold medal at the 1973 Maccabiah Games and was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
While King and Kloss are in the history books for their on-court accomplishments, their off-court achievements are every bit as extraordinary. Together, the couple of more than 40 years has made it their life’s work to fight for social change and equality for all. They have advocated on behalf of women and the LGBTQ community through a variety of joint ventures, making a positive impact globally in sports and in the workplace.
“Billie and I are a team in business and in life,” Kloss says. “We have worked on many projects together, from World TeamTennis to the Women’s Sports Foundation to the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and beyond. It’s an amazing journey, and as Billie Jean likes to say, we’re not done yet.”
“It helps that we frequently have the same vision, but we often have different paths to the solution,” King says. “We like to talk things through, gather information and move forward. But Ilana is the one who leads and makes it all happen.”
In 1974, King co-founded World TeamTennis, the co-ed pro tennis league with a team format in which men and women have equal roles.
Many of the greatest names in tennis have competed in WTT over the years, from Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras to Chris Evert, the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters.
“World TeamTennis is a product that mirrors life, with men and women working together as a team,” says Kloss, who served as CEO and commissioner of the league from 2001-18. “Today, more than ever, your role is not defined by gender. For more than four decades, WTT has helped take tennis to the people, bringing our product to markets that might not ever have had professional tennis. At the grassroots level, people love playing on a team with their friends.”
King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, also in 1974, to help girls and women achieve their full potential in sports. She and Kloss are WSF board members, and Kloss is a past chair at the organization. In 2014, the couple launched the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to equality and inclusion in the workplace.
“At the WSF, I’m so proud of the contributions we’ve made to generations of women pursuing their athletic dreams, and I’m so proud of our role as the guardians of Title IX [a landmark civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs],” King says. “At BJKLI, we are moving the needle on discussions in corporations, getting companies to look closely and seriously at equity, equality and inclusion. We’re just starting to scratch the surface in this space, and there is so much more impactful work to be done.”
Through their efforts, progress has been made, but both King and Kloss say there’s still a way to go and that they’ll continue the fight until there is equality for all.
“We’re making progress, but we’re not truly equal,” says King, whose autobiography, “All In,” came out on August 17. “Specifically, marriage equality, adoption by same-sex couples and employment protections have improved, but there’s more to do. I would like to see employment protections as a federal law, like marriage equality and LGBTQ adoption, instead of regulated on a state-by-state basis. I won’t rest until we are equal.”
Adds Kloss: “Creating opportunities for others and hopefully inspiring all genders to live their authentic lives and be the best they can be is what drives us. There are no limits in life. If you can dream it, you can be it.”
Read more profiles of the 2021 Eastern Hall of Fame induction class: