August 26, 2013

Claim: Bobby Riggs Threw the Match Against Billie Jean King: Bobby Riggs threw the famous match against Billie Jean King in 1973 to pay off $100,000 in gambling debts to organized crime, according to a new TV report. Hal Shaw, a former golf pro in Tampa, said he heard three alleged mobsters and a lawyer discussing how Riggs "would beat Margaret Court and then he would go in the tank" against King. The match before 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome became a milestone for women in sports. King, the world's second-ranked female tennis player, beat Riggs in straight sets.

posted by rcade to tennis at 11:10 AM - 7 comments

There are legitimate reasons to question this story.

We have a golf pro hidden away late at night while mobsters and lawyers were explicitly discussing illegal bets - meaning, they were unaware he was there, putting at least two people (the person they thought must've been in charge enough to lock up) at a golf course late at night. I worked at one as a teen and that wouldn't have been the norm at all.

The pro also was in a darkened room long enough before these cats came in for them not to know he was there, for the duration of the conversation and a half an hour afterwards - what was he doing late at night that puts him in a darkened room? Sleeping? This would've been pre-computer, so it's not like he was surfing the web or doing research that wouldn't have required light.

That said - why come out 4 decades later with this kind of detail if it wasn't true? I get that people make stuff up, but out of nowhere about something that happened decades ago?

In conclusion, I don't know what to think.

posted by dfleming at 01:17 PM on August 26, 2013

If you're going to throw a match, why lose in straight sets?

posted by yerfatma at 01:42 PM on August 26, 2013

Regarding witnesses getting world changing stuff off their chest 40 years later, any JFK researcher knows all too well that the world is full of those sorts of individuals, and that unfortunately, the information they provide often proves to be about as ironclad as a silk stocking.

The thing that tickles my elbow is the vision of two or three big time mob bosses convening in a quiet, deserted pro shop to engage in an urgent exchange over whether or not the visual equivalent of Woody Allen with a badminton racquet was or was not going to tank it against an athletic force of nature. They had no higher priorities than fidgeting over a circus such as that? There was nothing more critical to their operations that required their attention anywhere in their illicit empires at that moment? No money to launder, no seeds of influence to sow?

That's like a scene from a Guy Noir script on Prairie Home Companion.

posted by beaverboard at 03:37 PM on August 26, 2013

I watched that match, and I'm not buying it. Riggs was not that good an actor. He got whipped, did not expect to, and hated every second of it.

posted by gradioc at 07:58 PM on August 26, 2013

While I didn't see the match at the time, I don't buy it. Between Riggs's chauvinism and ego, I don't think he could have kept his mouth shut afterwards. He hated losing that match.

posted by Mothball at 10:46 AM on August 27, 2013

Between Riggs's chauvinism and ego, I don't think he could have kept his mouth shut afterwards. He hated losing that match.

I was on the fence about this until Mothball's comment. That seals it for me.

If they were to recreate this match today (on equal courts and no restrictions), it would be John McEnroe (54 years old, but still competing on the Champions tour) vs Serena Williams (31 years old, arguably the best in the world).

posted by grum@work at 11:29 AM on August 27, 2013

As much as I like McEnroe (as well as share the same Feb. 16 birthday), while it wouldn't be straight sets, I think Serena would win.

This story almost sounds like an attempt to downplay King's accomplishment, which helped to increase attention to women's tennis.

posted by jjzucal at 12:49 AM on August 28, 2013

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