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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Interview With Rory McIlroy; Interview With Billie Jean King
Aired July 3, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, one of the hottest young stars out of Hollywood. No, not that Hollywood, Hollywood in Northern Ireland. Twenty-two-year-old golfer Rory McIlroy is the biggest thing in sports since a guy named Tiger. A small town boy made good. Now can he help me with my game?
RORY MCILROY, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I'll do what I can, but I can't work miracles.
MORGAN: U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy in his first sitdown since that stunning victory.
MCILROY: For me, I won a golf tournament and that was really the end of it. But, you know, it's a bigger story than that.
MORGAN: And then one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport, Billie Jean King. How she felt when she beat Bobby Rigs on that battle of the sexes.
BILLIE JEAN KING, TENNIS CHAMPION: I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking, I have to play that match. Oh, thank you, God. Thank you for letting me win.
MORGAN: The challenges she faced coming out.
KING: I didn't get comfortable in my own skin until I was probably 51.
MORGAN: And my surprising connection with her.
I was a ball boy at Wimbledon.
KING: No way.
MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
We were still talking about Rory McIlroy's record-smashing victory at this year's U.S. Open. He was 16 under par, the lowest score in tournament history. He's the first start-to-finish winner since Tiger Woods in 2002. And he's only 22 years old.
Rory McIlroy joins me now.
Rory, as a fellow Irishman, thank you.
MCILROY: You're welcome. MORGAN: For coming to America and beat them at their own game in their own backyard.
MCILROY: Yes, it -- no, what can I say. It was -- it was one of the best weeks of my life. Everything just sort of came together at the right time and, you know, it was a great win.
MORGAN: I mean to come to America and win the U.S. Open is a feat very few ever achieve outside of America. What do you think it takes to be a winner? When it actually comes down to it, when you're entering that fourth day as you did, what is it that makes a champion compared to others who often fall by the wayside?
MCILROY: Yes, I mean -- I mean think I know more than anyone else from this year's Masters, you know, what happened to me, it's, you know, 95 percent of it is mental. You know, it's -- to know that you're going out with the lead and knowing that if you stumble at all, you know, there's going to be someone that's going to take advantage of that.
But, you know, you just get weeks, you know, you know that everything is going to fall into place. You know that mentally you're in the right place. And I was great mentally all week and that's what I needed to do.
MORGAN: One thing I've learned about America and Americans, and I love them for it, they don't like losing. How did they react to this young whippersnapper from Ireland coming in and winning their trophy?
MCILROY: You know I felt as if the reception I got from the American people was very good. You know, I don't know if it was because of what happened at the Masters and they -- you know, they wanted to see redemption or, you know, how they viewed it, but to go there and to win the U.S. Open in front of, you know, in front of the U.S. fans was -- you know, for me it was very special and it was special to win there.
And you know the reception I got was so warm. And you know it was just -- it was great to feel that from them.
MORGAN: Let me play a little clip now from the epic scene at the end when you won and you ran to your father. Let's watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland, an unreal performance from Rory McIlroy, the 2011 United States Open champion.
MCILROY: Dad, happy Father's Day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: Very emotional scenes there. You won the U.S. Open and you walked to your dad and you hug him and you say, "Happy Father's Day." I mean I can't think of many greater Father's Day presents than that.
How did your dad react to this?
MCILROY: He was fantastic all week. He was a very calming influence to me. You know, having breakfast with him, you know, sort of talking about the day ahead, you know, how I'm feeling.
And I feel as if -- I mean, you know, obviously a lot of sons are very close with their fathers, but you know I feel like I can say things to him that I couldn't say to anyone else. And you know, he's always very positive. Anyone that knows him, you know, will tell you that. And just reassuring, saying everything is OK, you'll be fine, just keep doing what you're doing, and you know to be able to celebrate like that on Father's Day with him was very special.
MORGAN: The traditional Irish way of celebrating things is to go and get completely hammered. I hope you kept up this tradition.
MCILROY: Yes, I've had a couple of good nights out with my friends since probably since I've been home.
MORGAN: Now there is some conjecture about exactly what beer is your favorite. And this is mainly being caused by you, because depending on which interview you're giving, you so far said Heineken, Corona and Guinness.
Now which is it?
MCILROY: Never Guinness. No.
MORGAN: Never Guinness?
MCILROY: No. I still -- I think it's an acquired taste and I've still to acquire that taste.
MORGAN: You don't like Guinness?
MCILROY: No, I'm not -- I'm not a big fan. Not a big fan. As I was going to --
MORGAN: That's sacrilege.
MCILROY: I know. I know. I know. But if I was going to drink any beer, it would either be Heineken or Corona. Usually Heineken.
MORGAN: You're from the north of Ireland. So describe to me your upbringing. What was it like? Obviously to many American, in particular, they will know that there's been a lot of trouble in Northern Ireland over the years.
For a young man growing up as you did there, what was it like for you?
MCILROY: You know, personally I've never seen the violence. I grew up in a very quiet town called Hollywood just outside Belfast. And the only thing I -- you know, in terms of trouble was on TV, on the news. You know, I never experienced it firsthand, so I -- you know, if anyone ever asked me about Northern Ireland and the troubles, I mean I can't really say to them what it's like because I've never actually seen it, you know.
So it's just -- it's just -- it a pity that, you know, these things are put on the news. And you know I'd rather see Northern Ireland, you know, portrayed in a more positive light.
MORGAN: I mean it's a lot more peaceful there now. There's still incidents occasionally, but certainly when I grew up, it was a lot more violent. There seems to be a sense that Northern Ireland has come through that dark period. And one of the reasons, I think, is that some of the sportsmen like yourself have been really excelling.
Do you feel that the weight of the expectation of the Irish on your shoulders?
MCILROY: A little bit, but I don't mind that. I don't mind carrying that around with me, because if what I do on the golf course provides hope for the people of Northern Ireland, then you know I can't really do a much better job than that.
MORGAN: Are you Irish or British? Or can you be both?
MCILROY: It's hard. I mean I'm Northern Irish. You know, I carry a United Kingdom and you know I've got a British passport. It's a hard one -- it's a hard one to sort of answer, because you know I've got my choice. I can play for Ireland, I can play for Great Britain.
It's a -- it's a tough one. I mean it's -- and it's always going -- I'm always going to have to answer that and deal with that question because of where I grew up. And it's -- you know, I regard myself as Northern Irish and that's all I can really say.
MORGAN: That's probably the diplomatic answer, isn't it?
MCILROY: It would have to be.
MORGAN: Did you have a tough upbringing, would you say?
MORGAN: Did you have much money as a family? Were you --
MCILROY: No. No, not at all. My mom and dad worked very hard to give me the best chance in -- not just in golf but in life. You know, I was an only child, you know, my dad worked three jobs at one stage. My mom worked night shifts in a factory.
MORGAN: What did they do?
MCILROY: My dad was a bar manager and worked in separate places, you know, in the daytime and then in the night. And my mom worked in a factory that produced tape and sort of industrial goods and she worked night shift in there. So, you know, they worked very hard.
And I -- being so young, you're sort of oblivious to it all, and it's only when you become a little older and a little wiser that you realize how much they sacrificed for you. And --
MORGAN: It's been worth it, though, hasn't it?
MCILROY: Yes, yes. But you know if it wasn't for them, you know, I wouldn't be -- probably wouldn't be sitting here talking to you.
MORGAN: Did you ever imagine when you were growing up and the other Hollywood, that the real one, one day would be a place that would welcome you like a conquering hero?
MCILROY: Yes, it's --
MORGAN: Pretty surreal, isn't it?
MCILROY: It is. It is very surreal. And I've -- you know, I didn't realize the magnitude that this win would -- you know I didn't realize how much my life would change even in the last 10 days.
MORGAN: What's it been like? I mean I can't even imagine. A young lad of 22. My son is nearly 18, so I look at you and I see this very young guy who seems remarkably calm, given you just exploded on the international sports scene.
When you win the U.S. Open in America, as I've seen, I've been out there when it happened, it's just -- it's a huge story. Hard to describe to people back in Ireland or England what it's like for what's happened to you. It must have turned things upside down, isn't it?
MCILROY: Yes, it's -- I mean -- I didn't realize how much attention and focus was going to be on me after that. The amount of media requests. You know, just interviews, everything like that. I mean I -- you know, for me, I won a golf tournament and that was really the end of it, but you know it's a bigger story than that. And it's --
MORGAN: Is it exciting or slightly terrifying?
MCILROY: No, it's exciting. I mean it's the reason that, you know, I practice for seven or eight hours a day. You know there's no point in practicing for that long and then getting to the point where you could win a major, you know, you could become the best player in the world and to say, oh, no, I don't really want that. You know that's why I practice is to put myself in these positions. MORGAN: The other players, some of them have been playing for twice as long as you've been alive, and they have to watch you come along. Some Great British players, never won a major, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomery and others.
You've done it now at this ridiculously young age, you've been called the new Tiger Woods. How have they reacted, the guys who've never won and tried for so long to do so?
MCILROY: They've been very positive. You know I feel as if I'm quite close to Lee Westwood. And he's been one of the best players in the world for a number of years now. And it just hasn't happened for him on that given week. You know the same as Monty. Monty had, you know, plenty of chances and didn't quite finish it off.
And you know I think it's a huge advantage for me to be able to win a major so early, to get that, you know, monkey off my back, as they say, and, you know, focus on winning more majors.
MORGAN: We'll have a short break. When we come back, I want to talk to you about what it's like, apart from this fly buzzing around your head --
MORGAN: So if you had your 4 iron, you could swat it. I'll talk to you about the guy everyone is comparing you to, Tiger Woods.
MORGAN: Rory, lots of comparisons right now to you and Tiger Woods. Famous footage of him at 3 years old smacking balls down the fairway. You were playing from the age of 18 months, if folklore is correct. Do you see any parallels with Tiger in terms of the way you play?
MCILROY: Yes, I mean, you know, at 22 we both had one major. He won a couple more times than I have in my career. But I mean I have to let other people make comparisons, because if I go -- am trying, you know, to chase his records, I'll lose sight of what I need to do to actually -- to win tournaments.
You know, Tiger is one of the best players, if not the best player to ever play the game, so --
MORGAN: There are people right now, proper experts, saying that you have the ability, the natural ability and you've now shown the mental strength to come back from the Masters where, to use sporting parlance, you slightly choked, if you don't mind me using that phrase.
MORGAN: To come back and win the Open after that proved to the experts that you have the mental agility, too. They're saying, you know, you could have it all. You could go on and be the greatest champion that golf has ever seen.
That's a lot of pressure, isn't it?
MCILROY: It is. But you know at the end of the day that's what their -- they're only words. You know I have to go out and actually do it. You know they could say he could win 20 major championships, but, you know, at the end of the day I've only got one, you know, so it's up to me to go out and prove them right, you know, if they are right. And not worry about that, just try and focus on me and playing my best golf. And if I can do that, records and wins and everything else should take care of themselves.
MORGAN: I suppose you've always showed a slight fearlessness towards Tiger. You've never been as apparently in awe of him as some of the others. It was suggested this was getting to him a bit, you know that -- who is this guy who isn't terrified of me? It's part of the thing in sports to not be in awe of people?
MCILROY: Yes, of course. I mean I don't want to feel inferior to any other golfer in the world. You know if you do that, then you know you're giving them an advantage, you know, right off the -- you know, right from the start. So -- you know, but I mean -- obviously I respect everything that Tiger has done and as a kid I was in awe of what -- you know, of what he was doing.
But, you know, I'm supposed to be a competitor of his now, so there's -- you know, I can't be in awe of what he does or anything like that. All I have to do is focus on -- again, on my game. He can do whatever he wants, but at the end of the day if I concentrate on me and I play my best golf, you know, I know that sometimes, you know, if I do that, I'll come out on top.
MORGAN: Tiger obviously became one of the biggest sports icons in history, very, very quickly. A mercurial talent. Apparently the poster boy in every way. We know what happened next, you know his life came crashing down around him. A lot of it, people say, is down to the huge pressure that he was under, to be this huge superstar all the time.
You're now going to get a lot of the Tiger-like attention, not just from the golf critiques and the media and so on, but you know, you're a good-looking Irishman with a twinkle in your eye. You're going to get all the girls and so on.
Do you think you have the strength of character to deal with it in a way that Tiger ultimately turned out not to have?
MCILROY: I hope so. It's a tough one because I mean, as a golfer, you grow up and you -- all you're doing is trying to imagine winning tournaments and becoming the best golfer that you can be. But you don't realize everything else that goes along with that, the fame, the attention, and it's something that I'll just have to deal with.
It's something that I feel Tiger managed it very well for a long time and it just -- it obviously just all sort of got to him. It's a very tough position to be in. MORGAN: I mean it can be a lonely old world being a professional sportsman, particularly golfers. You're all touring all the time, flying around, staying in hotel rooms. You get a lot of attention from the groupies and so on. It's not -- it's not a healthy way to live for relationships and stuff, is it?
MCILROY: No, it's not. No, not at all. And that's why a lot of the golfers travel with their families and with their wives. And you need a good team around you to keep you grounded and, you know, and keep in check with reality and keep a sense of perspective. And you know I feel as if I've got great parents. I've got a great family, got great friends. You know, I hope --
MORGAN: And a great girlfriend.
MORGAN: In Holly, who's your childhood sweetheart.
MCILROY: Holly. Yes.
MORGAN: What does she make of what's happening to you?
MCILROY: She -- I mean -- I think in a way it's tough on her. You know I'm getting all this attention. And we've been together since we were 15 years old. And we've had -- you know a couple -- five or six- week breaks which, you know, you're going to have. But you know she knows me better than probably anyone else in the world. And she -- she keeps me very grounded. I mean she doesn't take any grief from me at all.
MORGAN: Not many women I know would like waking up to see the man in their life described as the next Tiger Woods right now.
MCILROY: No, definitely not. No, but she's great. You know she -- we're a very -- I mean I'm trying to stay as normal as possible. I mean I don't know what the next few years are going to bring, but we're a very normal couple. She still goes to university. She's trying to finish her degree.
I'm obviously out playing golf and trying to win major championships. But, you know, we -- you know we see a lot of each other. And you know we have two dogs, live together, so it's --
MORGAN: So you've got a little family already.
MCILROY: Well, sort of, yes.
MORGAN: Do you think wedding bells on the horizon here?
MCILROY: No, not at the moment. You know Holly needs to finish school first and get a degree and --
MORGAN: Does it depend on how good a degree she gets? MCILROY: No, not at all.
MCILROY: She's a lot more -- she's a lot smarter than I am. So no, she's the brains of the couple.
MORGAN: It must be surreal, though, for both of you. I mean there you were ticking along quite nicely and your golf is getting better and better and winning tournaments, but this particular stage of your life, even you probably couldn't have foreseen what was going to happen.
And there you are the both of you with two dogs having an attempt at a normal life. And yet in your mind you must both realize it's not going to be normal now.
MCILROY: No, it's not. You know we're going to get attention, good and bad. But again, it's something that we're just going to have to learn to deal with. It's -- you know, it's amazing how life can change so quickly, and you've just got to adapt with the times.
MORGAN: Let's take a little break. When we come back, I'm going to play a little message from a friend of yours just to spice things up a bit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAEME MCDOWELL, 2010 U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Rory, congratulations on your U.S. Open victory. It's extra special. I'm not quite sure what golf course you were playing but congrats, what a display. And you blew us all the way, so enjoy.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That's a message there from your great friend, Graeme McDowell, fellow Irishman, of course.
I mean even with him, you want to kill him, right, on the golf course?
MCILROY: Yes. Of course, yes. On the golf course, yes. But he's a great friend off.
MORGAN: (INAUDIBLE) watching you, here's a nice charming young man from Ireland. To tell people, well, I've got very well polished shoes. My mother would say (INAUDIBLE) polished shoes. And yet in you is a steely assassin on a golf course.
Where does that come from? Where does it come from for you, do you think? Where have you got that from?
MCILROY: I think you need that. I mean I feel as if I need that on the golf course. You know I need that cockiness, the self-belief, arrogance, swagger, whatever you want to call it, I need that on the golf course to bring the best out of myself. So you know once I leave the golf course, you know that all gets left there.
You know I'm -- I just try to just turn into the normal Rory McIlroy that was brought up in Hollywood, Northern Ireland.
MORGAN: I mean if you tried to go home to Holly and the two dogs with the swagger and the arrogance and the cockiness, how would she react?
MCILROY: Probably with a slap from the back of her right hand.
MORGAN: Who are the sportsmen that you've most admired over the years? From any generation really.
MORGAN: Who's most inspired you?
MCILROY: I think for any golfer from my generation, watching Tiger -- you know growing up and winning his major championships was a huge inspiration for me to believe that, you know, maybe one day I could go on to emulate what he's done.
MORGAN: Did he call you after the U.S. Open?
MCILROY: No, he left a message in the media center.
MORGAN: Saying what?
MCILROY: Just well done, great performance from start to finish. And that was basically it. But nowadays, I look up to Rafael Nadal. And I've become pretty good friends with him over the last year. And I just think the determination and the focus and the intensity that he brings to the tennis court is incredible. It's nothing -- I've never seen anything like it before.
MORGAN: I mean the one really downside to -- amid all this apparent perfection is you're a Manchester United soccer fan.
MORGAN: Which is of course --
MORGAN: About as bad as life gets. But they have this great manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. He's a legend in Europe. And not that well known in America, but in terms of his leadership, is he someone that inspires you?
MCILROY: Yes, definitely. I think especially with the crop of players that he had in the late '90s. You know, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs. You know for all those players to be so loyal to him for so long, you know, it shows what a great leader he was. MORGAN: When you lost the Masters and you had to wake up to all these headlines, you know, Rory chokes and so on and so on, do you get depressed when that happens or do you have a side to you that just fires yourself up? Did you sink into a kind of temporary oblivion of despair?
MCILROY: No, if anything it made me more determined to go back and to prove to a lot of people, not just the media but you know just everyone and prove to myself as well that I wasn't this person that they were making me out to be in the press, you know, a choker or you know can't handle the pressure.
You know, I was determined to go out and show them that that wasn't me.
MORGAN: Did you get any time to relax there? Can you relax?
MCILROY: A little bit, yes. I mean, you know, I tried to, you know, I think time off and time away from the game is nearly as important as the time, you know, that you practice, because, you know, if I played golf every day, I would -- you know you get stale and you become a little bit -- you know you go through the motions and it becomes a little bit tedious.
But once you go away from the game for a couple of weeks, you've got that, you know, freshness back and that hunger and determination to go and want to work hard in practice again.
MORGAN: What do you like to do to just completely take your mind off golf? What was the best escape route for you?
MCILROY: I think to go and watch other sports -- sporting event. You know, Wimbledon, boxing matches. I've got a fiber side football pitch at home which, you know, me and my mates play home all the time. And I'm a season ticket holder Man United as well.
MORGAN: Do you ever read books?
MCILROY: Yes. To be honest, I haven't read a book in probably a year. So I think it is something --
MORGAN: Music -- do you listen to music?
MCILROY: Yes, music. Yes, I'm into music.
MORGAN: What's on your iPod?
MCILROY: I lot of -- lot of dancy, sort of techno, Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta.
MCILROY: All that sort of stuff, yes.
MORGAN: Swedish House Mafia.
MCILROY: Yes. I went to their concert here in London about four weeks ago.
MORGAN: I'm being told they're really big. I shouldn't act surprised. What's the big ambition for you, personally and professionally?
MCILROY: Personally, not to let all this attention that I'm going to probably get -- not let that affect me in any way.
Professionally, I want to go on to win more major championships. I want to try to become the best golfer in the world.
MORGAN: The best golfer in history?
MORGAN: Is that now attainable to you, do you think?
MCILROY: I would probably be --
MORGAN: I tell you what, let's put the Rory McIlroy of the golf course -- let's ask him that question, along with the swagger, the cockiness, the arrogance. Because I'm looking at a guy who just won the U.S. Open who looks supremely chilled out by this.
You know, I think you quietly believe you could go on to become one of the greats.
MCILROY: Yeah, I do. I do. But I don't really know if people want to hear that. I mean, I believe that myself, yes.
MORGAN: I like hearing it. I like my sportsmen to exude chilling self confidence.
MCILROY: Yeah, I mean I'm very -- I'm very confident in my own abilities. I believe in myself. Yeah, I mean, I said something a couple of days ago. I said I'm not playing for money, I'm playing for a place in history. And that's -- you know, that's really what I'm all about.
MORGAN: Rory, best of luck.
MCILROY: Thank you.
MORGAN: Congratulations again. You're the pride of Ireland, of Britain, anywhere you'd like to say. We're all proud of you.
MCILROY: Thank you very much.
MORGAN: Back to the studio now for my interview with the woman who turned the tennis world upside down, Billie Jean King.
MORGAN: Billie Jean King is not just one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, she's surely one of the greatest tennis players, period. One who changed the sport forever. And she joins me now.
Billie Jean, this is a real honor for he.
BILLIE JEAN KING, FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: It's nice to meet you. You've been coming to Wimbledon for years.
MORGAN: In Britain, I lived in Wimbledon for five years. I was a ball boy at Wimbledon.
KING: No way.
MORGAN: I covered Wimbledon Magistrate's Court during Wimbledon Fortnight when all these rebrobacers (ph) used to be brought up for drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
Most importantly, my mother and grandmother, who loved 10 tennis, used to religiously take me to watch the King, as you were known then.
KING: Did you throw the ball to me?
MORGAN: Probably. I don't think I ever got on the big courts, where you were operating.
KING: No, I was on the outside courts.
MORGAN: You usually quickly marshaled your way to the big ones.
KING: Not in the beginning, but you were weren't around in the beginning. you weren't thought of. Maybe you were just thought of. I don't know.
MORGAN: I'm a lot older than I look.
KING: You look very young. One always wonders when they watch television. I wonder -- I'm 67, so I don't --
MORGAN: Well, this is the most amazing thing. Today is the -- well, this year is the 50th anniversary of your first Wimbledon win. I find that extraordinary.
KING: And I haven't missed a year.
MORGAN: Is that right?
KING: I've gone every single year since '61.
MORGAN: Do you still play tennis?
KING: Well, I got to a point -- because I started having my first knee operation when I was 23 and I was number one in the world. My knees progressively got worse and worse. And so last year, I got both knee -- I had knee replacement.
MORGAN: How many surgeries have you had now?
KING: I've had eight altogether on my knees. But I have this viralast (ph) and it lasts 30 years, as far as the testing. It's for 30 years performance. And I'm like why did I wait. I would have given anything --
MORGAN: It's really worked?
KING: I just played tennis the last two days out in Central Park in New York City.
MORGAN: Really, just around the corner.
KING: Yeah, yeah, because I live on the Upper West Side. So it's right near and I go. And it's just so much fun. I'm so excited. I got to where I had to take a taxi to the gym, which is two and a half blocks away, OK?
And so now I can walk forever. I can go up and downstairs.
MORGAN: When you play in Central Park, do you get anybody going by going, wait a second.
KING: Yeah, I do. I had a little group watching. They're so cute. And then they go oh, God, she's probably not any good anymore.
MORGAN: Are you good these days?
KING: No, I'm terrible. I can still strike the ball well. My eyes are great. Now that I can move and turn and run a little and --
MORGAN: I would challenge you --
KING: Oh, you'd beat me, I'm sure.
MORGAN: I'd love to have on my record that I beat Billie Jean King. But the last guy that challenged you, you beat his butt.
MORGAN: The famous Bobby Riggs.
KING: Yes, that was 1973. If I can set the scene, Vietnam was cooling down. Watergate was heating up. Women could not get a credit card on their own in the United States without a male signing off on it.
So a lot -- Roe versus Wade. A lot was happening. It was a very tumultuous time in our country. And then we'd also gotten Title IX, which was June 23rd, 1972, where federal funds going to private or public high schools or college or universities would get equally spent on both genders for the first time.
So, you know, I know if you live outside of the United States, it's huge. Now we have more women at universities -- actually it's about 57 percent on the average are now women at the universities.
MORGAN: And there's been an amazing change. You, I have to say, very instrumental in changing the whole view of women's rights. Forget just tennis or sports.
KING: No, it was visual, though. It was about men and women. Everybody got so emotional about it. Everybody was so emotional. Men were emotional. I couldn't believe it.
It brought out the worst and the best of everybody. I mean --
MORGAN: When he challenged you -- set the scene for me.
KING: We didn't have cable television then either. We didn't have anything like that.
MORGAN: Set the scene for the Bobby Riggs challenge. He's like this, quite arrogant --
KING: But he was a former number one. He won the triple crown at Wimbledon in '39. So I absolutely loved him, because he was one of my heroes. So he kept asking me for three years. We had only started women's professional tennis in 1971, our first tour.
So I kept saying, Bobby, we're working on this. We're in a tenuous position. Go away. He kept coming back.
So finally Margaret Court, who ended up being number one in '73, played him on Mother's Day. They called it the Mother's Day massacre because I think he won like 6-2, 6-1 or 6-1, 6-2. If you don't know anything about tennis, that's really bad.
MORGAN: What were you thinking when that happened?
KING: When I found out, I was in Japan. I got on and the flight attendant told me, coming from Japan. I said who won the match. And she said Riggs. I went oh, no, I'm going to have to play. It was a done deal.
MORGAN: Because you had to shut him up, right?
KING: So Margaret took one for the team by losing. And she definitely teed it up for the stage. It was on -- everybody was talking about it. It was in every -- I mean, everybody.
MORGAN: It was the battle of the sexes anyone had ever seen. This was the moment that women in America I think got empowered. This was -- down this braggart male sexist pig, and you killed him. Didn't you?
KING: Well, he's one of the -- you know what's funny? I think I beat him because I respected him so much.
MORGAN: When you beat him, how did that moment feel?
KING: Such relief, thank you, God. I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking, I have to play that match. Oh, thank you, God. Thank you for letting me win.
MORGAN: When you went out afterwards, what was the reaction from women in particular to what you'd done?
KING: I'd actually get half and half. Because fathers -- men in their 40s and 50s and 60s now will come up to me daily with tears in their eyes because they have daughters. And they said that matched changed me. Like Obama -- President Obama saw it when he was, what, 12 or 13. He told me how that influenced him.
KING: Yes. Now he has two daughters. Yes. And they are the first generation of the men --
MORGAN: Influenced him to do what?
KING: Just to really think about always making sure his daughters or girls and women have opportunities just like boys. That he believes we should have equal everything, which is what I've been fighting for since I was 12 actually. I had an epiphany at 12.
MORGAN: What was the epiphany.
KING: I was going to spend the rest of my life fighting for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women.
MORGAN: Did something happen to spark that?
KING: I think it's because I got into tennis when I was 11. And I wanted to be number one right away. I'd found my life, my destiny. And I was out at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. It was a very quiet day and the sun was setting and there was nobody around.
And I just -- I said, you know what, this game has white people, white clothes, white sox, white shoes, white balls. Where is everybody else? That started. That was the beginning of my thinking.
Then I started thinking about the world and society and just this is ridiculous. We all should have equal rights and opportunities. And that just came to that as a 12-year-old. And then I prayed that I would be number one, maybe I could have some influence and help make a difference before I'm out of here.
MORGAN: Hold that thought for a moment. I want to come back to you after the break and talk about what many thought was an even more seismic moment for female tennis and sport, when in 1972 you made the cover of "Sports Illustrated" magazine.
KING: Oh, that was big.
MORGAN: Bigger than Wimbledon, some said.
MORGAN: Billie Jean, forget winning Wimbledon. Let's cut to "Sports Illustrated" magazine and the moment that you became the cover girl of "Sports Illustrated." That in itself created shock waves, didn't it?
KING: It did. It was the first time a woman ever got sportsman of the year. And I shared it with the great -- the late John Wooden, who was the coach of the Bruins, UCLA bruins, in Los Angeles. So that was an honor just to be with him.
Because basketball was my first love, so him being a basketball coach I thought was great. Usually I always shared covers with people in the beginning. I'm a person that got the door ajar. And then the next time -- like Chris Everett was sportswoman or person of the year. She got the whole cover.
MORGAN: Chris Everett has always called you the wisest woman she knows.
MORGAN: Yes, which I thought was a great compliment.
KING: Very sweet. Chris and I get along very well, and Martina. We had like a Troika going. I said to them, if anybody says anything bad about us, we come to each other. We don't let the media bait us, because they were always baiting you to get you upset with a different player.
They're loving it. I said you guys, they're just baiting you. So we're always going to be good to each other. You know what, the three of us, that really cemented it. Of course, my generation mentored their generation a lot.
There's always a big influence on the second generation. By the third generation, it's a much more "me" type of generation.
MORGAN: What was the hardest barrier for you to break down, do you think?
KING: I think for me, probably being gay, being a lesbian. Yes, I think that's probably been my toughest fight, because I grew up in a homophobic family. Although not now.
I didn't get comfortable in my own skin until I was probably 51.
MORGAN: What age were you when you came out?
KING: I was outed by Marilyn Barnett (ph) in '81, which (ph) people always say don't you think people should be outed? And I go absolutely not. It should always be able to come out on your own terms, in life and anything. So I thought --
MORGAN: How did it happen?
KING: Well, I had this affair with Marilyn Barnett and she tried to sue me for money, what else? You know, it's money. So that was very difficult time.
MORGAN: How did it make you feel that not only had you been sold down the river for cash, but you'd been outed to the world? You were hugely famous at that time.
KING: It was very hard on me because I lost all my money overnight.
MORGAN: From what, endorsements?
KING: Endorsements went bye-bye in 24 hours. They called me a slut. And they called me all kinds of things. And it was -- it was a terrible time in my life.
But I also had to figure out how am I going to -- how I'm going to live, because I was still married to Larry King -- not that Larry King.
MORGAN: I was going to say. You would have been number nine.
KING: Yeah. I would have. And I had wanted a divorce for a long time. And finally we worked through it eventually and I got my divorce. Ilana Claus (ph) has been my partner for over 30 years now.
So I'm really happy. But being comfortable in your own skin is really important. It was such an honor this -- in -- a couple of years ago when I won the medal of freedom. And President Obama is the first president that actually mentioned the LBGT community.
And Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in San Francisco by Dan White years and years ago in the '70s, and Mayor Musconi was also assassinated. To have -- to be -- to have Harvey Milk finally get this Medal of Freedom, which was the highest civilian award you can get in our United States of America --
MORGAN: Just playing back a little bit, when you were outed in that way, it was obviously a bruising, horrible experience for you. Looking back on it, did its actually make your life better in the longer terms?
KING: In the long run, sure. Because it got me going.
MORGAN: Why would you advise other people not to come out?
KING: Because it's not right. It's a horrible feeling. You want to do it on your own terms. When people are ready -- If you go to psychotherapy -- like I've been through a lot of therapy. They'll always tell you when you're ready, you're ready. Until someone's ready, they're not.
So you just have to be kind and good to people and they'll find their way. Doesn't mean you don't talk to them personally or privately. I think it helps when a straight person says, are you gay? And I doesn't care if you are. And that really just sets the tone, like ah.
But a lot of straight people are afraid to say anything. And I appreciate that, too. I thought I was straight for years. So I've been both places. So it's just important -- and everyone has the same challenges and problems. That's what people don't realize.
It's so interesting how people think oh, you have a different set of -- no. No. In relationships, it's so much the same.
MORGAN: We'll take a short break. When we come back, I want to know about the song that Elton John wrote for you.
KING: I like it.
MORGAN: Back now with my special guest, Billie Jean King. In the break, you are singing a song that Elton John himself wrote in your honor. Tell me about that.
KING: Well, actually, a lot of the people out here, too. They're all singing it to help us remember.
MORGAN: So it was "Philadelphia Freedom".
KING: I played world team tennis for the Philadelphia Freedom. It was the first year. Elton used to come and sit on the bench. Ted Hengley, who was the designer from England, made the uniform for us. They made Elton one.
We played an exhibition against Bill Cosby as well. But he used to sit on the bench with our team. It's a co-ed team. That's actually still my core business, world team tennis. So it's ironic, because here we go.
So anyway, we're going to a concert together. He said, I want to write you a song. And of course, I'm blushing now. I thought he was teasing, right? Joking. You must be joking. No, no, no, I'm serious.
He said, what are we going to call it? I go, I don't know. I'm like so embarrassed by this time. And he goes, how about "Philadelphia Freedom?" That would be great. I love that. He says, I love Philadelphia. Good. It's iambic, whatever.
I go hey, that would be a great gift to the people of Philadelphia. Of course, I'm playing team tennis for them, which was a co-ed league. So I'm thrilled. And so he wrote it. He brought a rough mix to our -- at the end of the year, at the end of the season, I mean.
And I had the whole Philadelphia Freedom team stand around in this dirty little dressing room, locker room, depends which country you're from. And he said, oh, God, I hope you like it. It was a rough mix. I loved it!
First of all, he's my -- he's been a friend since '73. This was '75. You're not kidding, what an honor. When I go to any place in Philadelphia, this is kind of like their anthem. A lot of people don't know the history.
They think -- then don't know. Then I tell them, they go, oh. We still have a Philadelphia Freedom world team tennis team in Philadelphia.
MORGAN: Have you stayed friends with Elton?
MORGAN: Have you seen his new baby yet?
KING: No. But my partner has. Ilana has held him. Two weeks after Zachary was born. I wasn't in L.A. So Ilana held him. She said he's just adorable.
MORGAN: Tell me, when you watch modern female tennis -- I went to see Serena Williams playing against some eastern European waif of a girl at Wimbledon two years ago. It was utterly barbaric. It was like going back into sort of the old Roman amphitheater.
I spoke to Serena recently at a party about this. And she was chuckling away and totally unapologetic. She's like, I remember I destroyed her. I was like, wow. How would you have got on against women who are so physically powerful?
KING: This generation is so much better. My brother is 6'3". I needed to be taller, probably. But when you talk about Serena, she could have been the greatest player of all-time if she would play consistently. But she's had so many other things she loves to do, which is fine. Venus, both of them, are just tremendous.
MORGAN: For you, finally, 50 years since your first victory at Wimbledon. What's been the greatest moment of your life?
KING: you're really asking difficult questions, because it depends. Is it personal? Is it career? I think winning 20 Wimbledons was right up there.
MORGAN: Does anything beat the first one?
KING: Actually not.
MORGAN: That moment you clutched the --
KING: Actually no. I like mixed doubles best, then women's doubles, then singles. So for me winning doubles with Karen Hansen in 1961, my very first year, and here we are 50 years later. I loved that moment. You have no idea how I think about that.
We giggled our way through Wimbledon. I had no clue what was going on. Karen kept telling me we could win. I'm saying, there's no way we can win.
I never looked at the draw. She kept wanting me to look at the draw. I went over to look at the draw to keep her happy. I don't like looking at draws. I like taking one match at a time and never think ahead.
She's going, oh, we can beat this team, we can beat that team. I'm like, Karen, I don't want to talk about it. She said, I'm telling you, we can win this. I said you've been here one year. You're really a veteran. She says, I know we can. And she was right. Karen was right.
MORGAN: Been a real pleasure.
KING: Thanks for having me.
MORGAN: Lovely to meet you.
KING: It's wonderful to se you.
MORGAN: That's Billie Jean King. What a legend she is. That's it for tonight. Here's "AC 360".