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NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • An inspiring and intimate self-portrait of the champion of equality that encompasses her brilliant tennis career, unwavering activism, and an ongoing commitment to fairness and social justice.
“A story about the personal strength, immense growth, and undeniable greatness of one woman who fearlessly stood up to a culture trying to break her down.”—Serena WilliamsIn this spirited account, Billie Jean King details her life’s journey to find her true self. She recounts her groundbreaking tennis career—six years as the top-ranked woman in the world, twenty Wimbledon championships, thirty-nine grand-slam titles, and her watershed defeat of Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes.” She poignantly recalls the cultural backdrop of those years and the profound impact on her worldview from the women’s movement, the assassinations and anti-war protests of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and, eventually, the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
She describes the myriad challenges she’s hurdled—entrenched sexism, an eating disorder, near financial peril after being outed—on her path to publicly and unequivocally acknowledging her sexual identity at the age of fifty-one. She talks about how her life today remains one of indefatigable service. She offers insights and advice on leadership, business, activism, sports, politics, marriage equality, parenting, sexuality, and love. And she shows how living honestly and openly has had a transformative effect on her relationships and happiness.
Hers is the story of a pathbreaking feminist, a world-class athlete, and an indomitable spirit whose impact has transcended even her spectacular achievements in sports. ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Washington Post, The Guardian“A constant role model in my life, Billie Jean King is a leading example of integrity in the face of adversity. The book’s powerfully honest and unapologetic candor is a reflection of King’s brilliant mark on the world and the glass ceilings she shattered. It’s a story about the personal strength, immense growth, and undeniable greatness of one woman who fearlessly stood up to a culture trying to break her down.”—Serena Williams
“I love this book. This is more than an autobiography—it’s a manual for how to love yourself for who you are. Brutally honest and vulnerable at every level, here’s the real Billie Jean King, champion of equality. When she was little, the world she wanted didn’t exist. So she built it—and best of all, she’s still building it. Athletes fight for trophies; legends fight for others. You’ll see. All In hits home.”—Brad Meltzer, author of I am Billie Jean King“True to its title, All In is bracingly candid. Alongside the sporting and political battles, it tells of the eating disorder from which Ms. King suffered, a sexual assault she experienced as a teenager, and the whirlwind of being outed as a lesbian by a former lover in 1981. Ms. King does nothing by half-measures—so much the better for readers, sport, and the many women she encouraged and empowered.”—The Economist
“It’s easy work to be a former champion, easier still to be a legend — after all, the job requirements are nothing beyond showing up. But it’s not easy to be an activist, and it’s certainly not easy to commit your life to pushing the world closer to how you want it to be. All In reads as a manifesto, like Letters to a Young Poet with a heavy dash of bell hooks. . . . Her book is a powerful rallying cry, in a life full of them, for how she hopes we play the game after she’s gone.”—Caitlin Thompson, New York Times
“What resonates with me most deeply in All In are the little-known stories [King] tells of incidents that forged her character and steeled her resolve when she was 11 and 12, growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Long Beach, Calif., and trying to figure out her place in the world, too. . . . At 77, King is not a former tennis champion on a late-life victory tour. She is a woman who approaches each day with an open heart and clear intention.”—Liz Clarke, Washington Post
“King’s memoir . . . is a vivid and detailed account of her rise to sporting greatness and her struggles to attain equal treatment for women in a shockingly discriminatory sport. . . . It’s with remarkable clarity that King recalls life-changing matches, in some cases walking us through each set. . . . All In describes a life comprising one epic struggle after another, both on and off court.”—Fiona Sturges, The Guardian“All In is everything the title promises: An all-encompassing look at what it took for women to progress, not just in tennis, but in America and how women of color were constantly left behind. . . . At its center, it’s a story about pressure—to be the best, to win equal pay, to be a representative for queer athletes. But King understands that ultimately that pressure was a result of privilege and with All In, she’s produced a book that grapples with both.”—Shannon Melero, Jezebel
“Extremely compelling . . . The world was filled with people who wanted to be interesting. It was another thing to be interested. All In is an engaging tale of someone who has spent a lifetime being both.”—Joel Drucker, Racquet“Invigorating and deeply moving, All In is the best sports book of the year, leaving readers anticipating what King will serve up next.”—Olive Fellows, The Christian Science Monitor“Vivid throughout is King’s passion for the game . . . and her obsessive will to win. She also fervidly speaks on contemporary issues from trans rights—calling out the Women’s Tennis Association for its insensitive treatment of such players as Renée Richards—to gun control. . . . The result is a lively and inspiring portrait of pressure-cooker play and political upheaval in tennis, from one of its most fascinating figures.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“All In is a must-read about an authentic American hero, and one of the twentieth century’s most consequential figures in the fight for gender equality and human rights.”—Brenda Barrera, Booklist (starred review)
“A tennis legend tells all. In a candid, vividly detailed memoir . . . King (b. 1943) recounts her dazzling 30-year career, from her discovery of tennis when she was 10 to her amazing fame as the top player in the U.S., winner of 39 Grand Slam and 20 Wimbledon titles.”—Kirkus Reviews
“King describes the challenges she faced and the issues she continues to fight for in urgent and vivid terms, coalescing into a powerful self-portrait of an inspiring athlete and activist.”—Time“[King’s] drive to overcome any obstacle thrown in front of her powers this memoir. In scene after scene, she knocks down the barriers before her and others — even as she secretly wrestles with her sexuality. Billie Jean King’s strength, energy, and personality shine on every page of this gripping autobiography that will inspire tennis and non-tennis fans alike.”—Business Insider“[King’s] new autobiography looks back on her success but also focuses on the
women’s movement, civil rights, sexism, her eating disorder and being outed at the age of 51. Prepare to be inspired.”—CNN.com
“Blistering . . . King’s story would have been remarkable if it had been solely about tennis. But her record-breaking accumulation of grand slams was just one byproduct of her supreme facility for the game.”—Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian, “Best Sports Books of 2021”
“The life of one of the greatest tennis players is, as this book shows, nothing if not extraordinary. . . . All In pulls evocatively on the threads of the tumultuous social and historical background to her life, painting a compelling portrait of modern America alongside the narrative of King’s life.”—Sunday Times
“A vivid and detailed account of her rise to sporting greatness and her struggles to attain equal treatment for women in a shockingly discriminatory sport. . . . All In describes a life comprising one epic struggle after another, both on and off court.”—The Guardian“A brave and moving book, a must-read for tennis fans and a vivid slice of social history. Co-written with the tennis author Johnette Howard and Maryanne Vollers, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s memoir, its achievement is to sound like Billie Jean herself — lucid, accomplished, thorough, slightly earnest and deeply humane.”—The Times“What a glorious autobiography in every way. Inspiring, emotional, gripping, heartbreaking, brave and maybe most of all, authentic, Billie Jean King writes with verve, insight, and tremendous wit. This is the story of a remarkable athlete and how she has changed our nation for the better. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.”—Harlan Coben, author of Win“In the pantheon of tennis greats, Billie Jean King stands alone. Her sweeping autobiography traces the champion’s journey from twelve individual Grand-Slam titles to passionate advocate for women’s sports and LGBTQ equality. . . . Through this read, she immerses us in the drama of her singular story.”—Oprah Daily
“Billie Jean King is the most important woman to ever play sports. She has fought for opportunity, equality and inclusion every day of her adult life. She matters in a way very few athletes ever have. Her riveting autobiography is not only the honest portrayal of the life of a sports legend, it’s a piece of history. Every girl and woman – for that matter, every boy and man – owes Billie Jean King a debt of gratitude. Her impact on our culture has been enormous and, thankfully, continues to this day.”—Christine Brennan, USA Today
“Told in the forthright and clear way you would expect from this champion . . . This book will interest tennis fans, of course, but also anyone interested in feminism and women’s history, and in learning how activists play the ‘long game’ using strategy, tactic, and determination.”—Anara Guard, San Francisco Book Review“Truly inspirational . . . An instinctive mentor, [King] 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.”—Women’s Tennis Association
“King is generous enough to share one of the most incredible stories in sports with the world. She covers the success and struggles of her tennis career, her steadfastness when it comes to social justice and activism, and the unbelievable trials and tribulations she faced in her personal life.”—Tennis.com“All In is a must read for tennis aficionados as well as people interested in the myriad of changes in the world thanks to her and a cadre of women caring enough to change the world for the better.”—Mims Cushing, The Florida Times-Union
“All In is the remarkable story of a true legend who came from humble beginnings, and went on to change the world. Billie Jean King is a champion in every sense, just as much a hero behind the scenes as she is before her massive crowds. Her powerful memoir is a compelling must read. Masterfully done, this book is for everyone.”—Patricia Cornwell, author of Spin
“A personal portrait of the 20th century women’s movement . . . King’s ability to deal with intense and sexist scrutiny – her ability to win 39 Grand Slams titles while promoting women’s tennis and the aspirations of women in general – is just one of the remarkable takeaways from All In.”—Barbara Barker, Newsday
“All In provides the most current, candid, and personal perspective of a true champion in both senses of that word.”—David M. Alpern, The East Hampton Star
“All women athletes — not just tennis lovers — should read this book. While King is an international tennis hall of famer thanks to her 39 career Grand Slam titles and her dedication to improving the sport for women, her achievements being an enduring agent for social change during the civil rights, women’s liberation, LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter movements make this required reading for all who have benefited from her work.”—Joyce Bassett, Albany Times Union
“Billie Jean King’s life is almost too rich for one book. . . . In so many ways, hers is the story of America.”—Mark Whicker, Long Beach Press-Telegram“I will remember Billie Jean King as a leader who had the courage to fight for equality. . . . Women’s tennis and all women’s professional sports owe [much] to King’s entrepreneurial, relentless spirit.”—Barbara Bry, The San Diego Union-Tribune“We can’t get enough of tennis legend King, and this new autobiography shows why: after a whopping 20 Wimbledon championships, 39 grand-slam titles and her groundbreaking defeat of Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ in 1973, the 77-year-old feminist and social justice activist remains a true icon. A fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, King also dives into painful chapters in her personal life.”—Corrine Lestch, The Story Exchange“Billie Jean King’s grit and conviction burst off every page of this marvelously realized autobiography. Whether it was as a fierce tennis competitor or as a committed social activist, her story reminds us of what one person can do when she is honest and dedicated. Her authenticity was never in question. Her achievements were memorable and her impact long-lasting.”—Bill Bradley, author of Life on the Run
“Not only did her courage and diligence help transform acceptance of gay and lesbian culture, she also has been a maverick force in promoting women’s sports. King’s story traces a path from where we were to where we are headed.”—Linda Levitt, PopMatters“The most important sports figure of our time has finally gotten the rich and readable biography she – and we – have long deserved. It’s an ace.”—Robert Lipsyte, author of The Contender “Billie Jean King has come not just a long way, but incalculably far. And now we know the contours of her journey. She is a national treasure and, in this smartly written and compulsively engaging memoir, we grasp how and why. By turns informative, entertaining, and downright fun, All In traces the arc of an extraordinary woman and her extraordinary impact.”—Jon Wertheim, author of Glory Days
BILLIE JEAN KING is the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, the Women’s Tennis Association, and the Women’s Sports Foundation; she co-founded World Team Tennis; and she is part of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2006, the National Tennis Center was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. In 2020, the Fed Cup was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup, making it the first global team sports competition named for a woman. She was one of Life magazine’s “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century,” and in 2018 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards. She is an Adidas Global Ambassador, a past member of the board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and a past member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. She lives in New York. Chapter 1
I can still remember exactly what it looked, felt, and sounded like on that September afternoon in 1954 when my life changed forever. The sky overhead was bright as a bluebird’s wing. The Southern California sun felt warm on my skin, and I could smell the spicy bark of the eucalyptus trees that surrounded the public tennis courts at Houghton Park in Long Beach. A handful of boys and girls were lining up for their drills as I arrived with my friend Susan Williams for my very first session with a coach named Clyde Walker. It wasn’t long before the thwock-thwock-thwock of the balls being struck on our court blended into the noise rising from the adjoining court, too.
Susan had introduced me to the sport a few weeks earlier by asking me a simple question as we sat in our fifth-grade classroom: “Do you want to play tennis?”
“What’s tennis?” I replied.
I listened intently as Susan explained that in tennis you could run, jump, and hit a ball—three things I loved about basketball and softball, two of the team sports I played. Susan invited me to play at the Virginia Country Club, to which her family belonged. I was predictably awful, but Susan thought it was funny when I blasted a ball over the fence and shouted, “Home run!”—a first, I’m guessing, at the venerable VCC.
On the way home my mind was racing. That night I asked my father, “Daddy, which sport would be best for a girl? You know, in the long term.”
My father put down his newspaper and thought for a while. “Well, there’s swimming, golf, and”—I waited for it—“tennis.”
Tennis! I had tried swimming, but I was the worst in my class at the YWCA. The great female star Babe Didrikson Zaharias played golf, but to me golf looked too slow. Tennis seemed just right. I liked the variety and mental challenge. I liked being able to hit the ball over and over. Tennis fascinated me from that first day I played with Susan, using a borrowed racket.
When I pestered my parents for my own racket, I wasn’t discouraged a bit when they reminded me that money was tight, and that I’d have to buy it myself. I did odd jobs for neighbors, who smiled and indulged me when I told them my goal. I weeded flower beds, swept sidewalks. My mom advanced me $2, and I rode my bike to a local pharmacy, where I bought candy and then resold it to the other kids at a small markup.
I put every nickel and dime I earned into a Mason jar above the kitchen sink. After a few months I couldn’t wait anymore and my parents took me to a sporting-goods shop. When my parents approached the salesman and said they’d like to see tennis rackets for their daughter, I mustered the courage to ask him what $8.29 could buy. He showed us a sweet little wood racket with a purple-and-white throat and a purple grip. I thought it was beautiful. I bought it and slept with it that night . . . and the next night . . . and many, many nights after that.
While I’ll remain forever grateful to Susan for introducing me to tennis, it was Clyde Walker whose free instruction made the sport come alive for me. Once Clyde showed us how to hit a proper groundstroke, I loved the pure feeling of the racket strings connecting cleanly with the ball, absorbing its energy and hurling it back. I couldn’t get enough of the thrill of making contact—how the transference of energy shoots through your fingers, your arm, your shoulder, and how your whole body is involved as you swing. I loved the drama of it all, too—chasing down each ball, the universe of possibilities that opened up as I drew my racket back, then that split-second pause where everything hangs in the balance as you’re preparing to hit a return. There was something swashbuckling and instantly addictive about all of it. I loved the challenge and suspense of trying to hit a perfectly executed shot and the charge I got when the ball landed out of my opponent’s reach. Then I couldn’t wait to get the next ball and do it again.
By the end of that first afternoon with Clyde I knew I had discovered my sport. It was as if a window into my future had been flung open. I was only ten, but in the breathy way that ten-year-olds think, I was already certain it was my destiny, and I just had to tell somebody.
“Mom! Mom! I found out what I’m going to do with my life!” I said when she arrived to pick me up in our green DeSoto. “I want to be the No. 1 tennis player in the world!”
She smiled. This was not unlike the time a few years earlier when I stood in the kitchen as we were drying the dishes and told her, “Mom, I’m going to do something great with my life—I just know it! You watch.”
This time—as then—my mother looked at me and said the absolutely best, most revolutionary thing she could have said to a girl like me in 1954: “Okay, dear.”
I was grateful that my parents resisted setting limits on me, which is different from saying that my upbringing was always progressive. My mom and dad were strict and conservative in many ways, but they also told my brother and me we could be anything we wanted to be. When Randy, who is five years younger than me, announced at the dinner table one night that he also intended to be a pro athlete—a Major League Baseball player—both my parents covered their faces with their hands, then peered out through their fingers with a look that said, Not you, too? Mom was already driving me to tennis matches all over Long Beach and beyond. My dad later said we wore out three cars between Randy and me.
Randy ended up playing Major League Baseball for twelve years as a relief pitcher with the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays. I went on to win thirty-nine singles, doubles titles, and mixed doubles titles at the four major or “Grand Slam” tournaments—the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, Roland-Garros (also known as the French Open), and the Australian Open—and accomplish a few other special things. I don’t think there is just one factor that explains our athletic success. I think a combination of lucky genes, incredibly devoted parents, opportunity, and chance all played a role. We were fortunate to grow up in Southern California with its perfect weather for developing athletes year-round. Sports was the air we breathed.
The term “snowplow parent” hadn’t been invented when we were kids, but it wouldn’t have applied to my folks anyway. They sup- ported us but never pushed us to be sports stars. They concentrated more on being life coaches. Even my ultra-competitive father, who was a terrific athlete, never cared if we won or lost our games. “Did you try your best and have fun?” he’d ask, same as my mother did.
My parents always treated Randy and me equally, which was unusual for many families then. But when I didn’t share the same love of shopping or painting my fingernails that my mother did, I would notice the look on her face. She earned a cosmetology license the year she was engaged to Dad, and she was always so stylish in her pinched-waistline dresses and impeccable hair and makeup. I eventually learned that she had been a fast runner and terrific swimmer as a girl and used to body-surf in fifteen-foot-high ocean waves before she married my dad. On our swimming outings, Randy and I would thrash around, but she’d just float serenely, bobbing in the rolling waves like a cork. I’m sure I inherited some of her athletic talent, but she always played her abilities down. She had strong ideas about what was “ladylike.” She was happier (and far less conflicted) when I told her I was eager to sign up for cotillion like the other girls.
Later, once I started to question my sexual orientation, it was hard for me to forget those kinds of messages, or the day my hot-tempered father was driving Randy, my mother, and me to a tournament when I was about thirteen. We passed two men walking together down the street, and it triggered Dad’s memory. He told us a story about a man in the service who propositioned him. “I’d have clocked him if he hadn’t backed off,” my father said. I believed him. US
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