Meet Billie Jean King's Partner of 42 Years, Ilana Kloss, Who She Married in Secrecy

Christell Fatima M. Tudtud
Nov 26, 2021
08:30 P.M.
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Renowned tennis superstar Billie Jean King took a long time to embrace her sexual identity. Here is the story of King's acceptance of her sexuality, which paved the way for her marriage to South African tennis player Ilana Kloss.

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Iconic athlete Billie Jean King took the world by storm with her incredible tennis skills. At 12 years old, she said she had an epiphany of her "tiny universe of tennis."

The Long Beach, California-native also affirmed to her mother that she would become the "no. 1 in the world." King's affirmation and her vision became a reality. 

Billie Jean King and her wife, Ilana Kloss, show off their matching rings as they smile at the camera. | Photo: instagram.com/billiejeanking

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King achieved the goal she set for herself when she ranked number 1 in women's tennis in 1966. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, she said she was sure the sport would be her "weapon," and added:

"It would give me a platform if I was good enough."

The star athlete knew that working her way up in the world of tennis would be challenging. She experienced inequalities and sexism throughout her career as a female athlete.

Billie Jean King during the semi-finals in the women’s single championship at Wimbledon, England on July 2, 1964. | Photo: Getty Images

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BREAKING BARRIERS

in 1955, King was barred from being part of a group picture in a Los Angeles Tennis Club tournament because she wore tennis shorts instead of a traditional tennis dress.

This injustice motivated her to continue breaking barriers in the sport. In 1973, King founded the Women's Tennis Association and became the group's first president.

King also gained international fame beating tennis player and self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes." The match took place after Riggs claimed that the women's game was inferior to men's. 

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The infamous match between King and Riggs became the subject of a film four years ago, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell. It highlighted King's winning streak against her opponent:  6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Outside her popularity in tennis, the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative founder was known for her struggles with her sexuality. Growing up in a religious household, King lived with homophobic parents.

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MARRYING LARRY KING

In 1982, King, then 21, married her college sweetheart, Larry King, then 22. She remained his wife for 22 years until their divorce in 1987. She said of her past marriage:

"I married him thinking I was totally straight."

It took a long time for the 78-year-old tennis icon to accept her sexuality. She only acknowledged herself as gay at 51. She denied her sexuality for years because she was not comfortable with it at that time. 

Billie Jean King at Wimbledon with her husband Karry King at Margaret Court on July 6, 1972 in London England. | Photo: Getty Images

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MEETING ILANA KLOSS

After her divorce from her ex-husband, King developed a relationship with South African tennis player Ilana Kloss for 42 years. According to Kloss, she met the 39-time Grand Slam champion in 1966.

She was a ballgirl when King played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. As there were no TV or radios at the time, this was the first time Kloss saw a female athlete play live.  

King's performance was electrifying because of how she showed tremendous energy on the court. Kloss also described her partner as the "People's Champion."

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Like King, Kloss was a star of her right. In 1976, South African athlete ranked No. 1 in the world as a doubles player and no. 19 in WTA's singles ranking. She had several accolades under her belt. 

Kloss and King's similar accomplishments showed that they are a match made in heaven.

In 2007, the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center named Kloss the Sports Business Woman of the Year.  She became one of the inductees of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

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Kloss and King's similar accomplishments showed that they are a match made in heaven. While they were in a relationship for more than four decades, they did not marry each other.

While she did not have a wedding, King said she "felt married" to her partner. They have spent years traveling the world, sharing their advocacies on the international stage, and celebrating special occasions together.

In January 2016, Kloss shared on Instagram a sweet selfie with King on the tennis court featuring their racquets. Kloss captioned that playing tennis is their New Year's resolution.

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In August 2017, Kloss posted another picture with King at the beach. Kloss beamed at the camera as she donned a green jacket beside her partner, wearing a blue jacket, black shirt, and eyeglasses.

King, meanwhile, shared a lovely photo on Instagram documenting their fun moments together. She shared a selfie with Kloss while attending Wimbledon in July 2021 in their stylish outfits.

Recently, King uploaded another snap with Kloss during their trip to Guadalajara, Mexico, for another tennis event. King captioned her post: "She always makes me smile."

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THE COUPLE'S SECRET MARRIAGE

After years of being in each other's arms, King recently revealed on August 2021 through her memoir "All In" that she secretly tied the knot with Kloss in October 2018.

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins presided over the secret wedding of the couple at his apartment. Their wedding was unknown to anyone except Dinkins, Dinkins' wife, and one City Hall worker.

King said she initially kept it private, saying that the intimate occasion was something special. She finally put it out so that no one would question how deeply committed she is to Kloss.

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NOTES ABOUT BEING AUTHENTIC

Recently, King penned a heartwarming message for the LGBTQ+ community on her Instagram feed. She wrote that a person needs to be brave to live an authentic life.

For those who have yet to come out, King wrote that they should take their time in revealing their most authentic self. King offered support once these individuals were ready to come out.

Along with her sweet message, she featured a photo of herself in a white jacket, black shirt, and rainbow sash while smiling and embracing Kloss, who donned a white shirt.

King reflected on today's younger generation who have been comfortable about their sexuality and several labels, including gay and bisexual. She believes that sexuality is "more fluid" and evolving.

The tennis legend also said falling in love today, regardless of a person's sexuality, is healthier than ever. She expressed hope that it will continue in the future. 

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