Billie Jean King has written several books over the years but this week’s publication of All In: An Autobiography marks the first time the WTA’s iconic founder has told her story in full.
Writing with candor, wit and humility, she explores the intensely personal quest to find her true self against the very public backdrop of an historic playing career and decades of tireless campaigning on social justice and equality issues.
“Early on, what was most apparent to me was that the world I wanted didn’t exist yet,” she writes. “It would be up to my generation to create it.”
That statement sets the tone for All In, as King reflects on the major cultural forces that shaped her value system: organized feminism, the civil rights movement and LGBTQ+ awareness. What’s clear is that, even as a young athlete in the 1950s, she understood that for her voice to be heard on such matters, she had to become the best.
Sure enough, destiny called and King played her way to No.1 in the world in singles and doubles. She won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 20 at Wimbledon, and was almost 40 years old when she won her last tournament.
While playing the circuit she never stopped walking the big-picture talk, building the new women’s tour and fighting for equal prize money. All In details, from the eye of the storm, the Original 9’s dollar bill rebellion in 1970, as well as the formation of the WTA at a tense meeting in London on the eve of the Wimbledon in 1973.
However, it would be King’s momentous defeat of Bobby Riggs in the so-called Battle of the Sexes, watched by a TV audience of 90 million, that gave her a unique trajectory. With that win she became an agent of change with a platform that went way beyond sports.
Indeed, as much as she loves history’s facts and figures, All In reminds the reader that King is always forward-looking, with a keen eye on work that still needs to be done.
An instinctive mentor, she conveys hard-won lessons on everything from leadership, business and activism to family dynamics, sexuality and the importance of living honestly and with an open heart. In this way, All In serves as a kind of motivational tool for living one’s best life and making a difference.
Speaking at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July, King said she wanted to inspire empowerment, compassion and empathy.
“I hope the book helps at least one person to be their authentic self – to believe in themselves, go for it, dream big,” she said. “That would make me happy.”
Chris Evert, a former rival and longtime friend who ranks among the book’s legendary cast of characters, was thrilled to get hold of an early copy.
“I’ve always said Billie Jean is the wisest person I know and with All In, she confirms it,” Evert said. “Aside from this being the best ‘tennis book’ I’ve read, I came away with an even deeper appreciation for what she means to tennis, and women – and all of us, actually – because of her commitment to equality and fairness. I couldn’t put it down.”
All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King with Johnette Howard and Maryanne Vollers published in the United States on Aug. 17 by Knopf/Penguin Random House and by Penguin’s Viking imprint in the United Kingdom on Sept. 9; other markets expected to follow.