Thirty-five years ago tennis champ Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famed “Battle of the Sexes.” The match drew a record audience of approximately 50 million viewers who sat glued to their sets as BJK emerged victorious and made sports history. Female fans and followers turned out in force to celebrate that moment at this year’s Billie Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Things were swinging at the VIP cocktail bash where tables were dressed in black and white brocade and topped with fresh spring tulips and yellow cymbidiums. Athletes and A-listers sipped chardonnay and talked sports, entertainment and politics.
The place was packed with legends-a virtual who’s who from the wide, wide world of sports. Hall of Famers Tracy Austin and Rosie Casals were among the evening’s heavy hitters along with Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan, basketball great Nancy Lieberman, distance swimmer Diana Nyad and fitness guru Kathy Smith. Even fellow celebs found themselves star struck, flipping out their Razor phones and clicking away with their digital cameras.
Just because a gal’s into sports doesn’t mean she can’t dazzle with a good dose of fashion pizzazz. There were plenty of slit-up-to-here, cut-down-to-there, backless, strapless and off-the-shoulder stunners. Athletes in this crowd were easy to spot with well-defined deltoids and bulging biceps all around.
Soon it was show time. Power players took their seats inside the International Ballroom as some of the greatest moments in women’s sports played on the wide screen.
The starry crowd tucked into an all-green organic feast of grilled asparagus, red beet and endive salad, chicken breast with braised artichokes and a decadent chocolate tart.
The live auction offered items you don’t normally come across like a little one-on-one time with Laila Ali and a tennis day with Billie Jean. One lucky bidder snapped up two tickets to London and an invite to the hottest happening in town-Sir Elton John’s ritzy White Tie and Tiaras Ball. The coveted package went for a cool 70K.
Then it was time to honor this year’s Billie Award winners who bring us outstanding portrayals of female athletes in the media. But the biggest cheers broke out for the woman who made that major sports milestone. “Billie Jean King gave all of us the chance to do better, to be better,” said honoree Lesley Visser.
And what better way to honor a tennis queen than with a magical performance by a prince of pop. Sir Elton set up his red piano and broke into song-“Your Song,” “Rocket Man,” “Tiny Dancer,” not to mention “Philadelphia Freedom,” the mega hit he penned for his longtime pal. Sir Elton called Bilie Jean “one of the great lights and one of the great teachers.” Karen Durkin echoed his sentiments saying, “Billy Jean King inspired me, challenged me, changed me.” She also helped women earn equal pay on the court all the way to Wimbledon.
The splashy sports event raised big bucks for Billy Jean’s Women’s Sports Foundation, which enriches the lives of women and girls around the world.
The net gain was $1 million. Now, that’s a lot of love!and fun.