Tennis legend Billie Jean King is proud of NBA player Jason Collins for coming out and she hopes he will be able to cash in commercially in a way she was not able to.
‘I know Jason Collins hopefully will get some new endorsements because he’s come out and shown how courageous and brave he is,’ King tells USA Today.
It was a different story back in 1981 when King, in the final years of her legendary career, was outed when an ex-girlfiend sued her for palimony.
‘It was a tough time,’ says King who was married to a man at the time. ‘You know, I lost all my endorsements in 24 hours.’
Only NBC Sports stood by the 20-time Wimbledon champion who was a commentator for the women’s final that year at Wimbledon between Chris Evert and Hana Mandlikova.
‘My galimony case, not coming out when I was ready, was a real hardship,’ King says. ‘You know, my lawyer and my publicist didn’t want me to come out with the truth, that I had an affair with a woman. And so that was really hard. I think that’s taken me the longest, to be comfortable in my own skin. It took probably until I was 51.’
Despite the scandal and losing her endorsements, King continued to play on the women’s tennis tour until she was 39 making it to the semifinals of Wimbledon in 1982 and 1983 and being ranked in the top 10.
She has been in a relationship with former tennis pro Ilana Kloss for nearly three decades and has received many accolades for her work in founding the women’s tennis tour and fighting for equal prize money for women.