MONDO EXTRAS

When Billie Beat Bobby

by Heathen April 25, 2001
When Billie Beat Bobby

"First Set," the caption reads. Men cheer Bobby, and women cheer Billie Jean, because there are no gray areas in moments like these. More kicky piano music plays. In slow-motion, Billie Jean tosses the ball, connects with it…and whacks it right into the net. Fault. Bobby winces, makes eye-contact with Billie Jean, and bows. She serves again -- double fault. "She losin' already? Told you," Afro Man says, standing next to his recliner. Sorority Sweethearts are silent; Suburban Mom has taken to scrubbing the carpet right in front of the TV set. Howard Cosell notices that Bobby is still wearing his yellow warm-up jacket. "Is this part of his hustle, to show that kind of self-assuredness?" Howard muses. "To see how that might affect the confidence of his opponent?" Rosie disagrees. "I think he forgot he was wearing it," she sasses.

Billie serves. More drums, more music. Rally. She spins around, whacks back a Bobby forehand, and wins game one. A counter on-screen complements the rally footage as the score sneaks up to 4-3 in Billie Jean's favor. Billie is darting from side to side, kicking and jumping and sweating. She rifles a shot past Bobby to take the set, 6-4. Women celebrate, and Howard Cosell is shocked. Cut to a doctor's office, where a woman is having a baby delivered. A nurse pokes her head in and announces the score. "Riggs is holding back to make the game last," the doctor says, soothingly. "She's gonna kill him!" screams the mother as she pushes. "If she does, I'll deliver the baby for free," he says glibly.

ABC Sports puts up an info-graphic that compares the first set and the measurements of the two players. I'm not kidding. "She has the advantage in age and shapeliness," Howard actually says. Lorney tells Bobby to take the damn jacket off, which he has insisted on wearing to promote Sugar Daddy candies. Eventually, he agrees to remove it. Lorney then decides to psych out the opponent; he walks over to Billie's side, praises Salvador Dali, and makes a bet on Bobby with someone who's standing directly behind Billie Jean. "Take it somewhere else," she snaps.

Second set. Looking faintly fatigued, Billie grips her racket and stares grimly over the net. Bobby serves and nets it. During subsequent rallies, we hear shooting noises as their rackets smack the balls and send them careening to the opposite side. Finally, Riggs lobs the ball, and as we hear it fall like a grenade, Billie whacks it over the net and Bobby whiffs the return. Stone-faced, Billie Jean adjusts her glasses. The crowd goes wild. Billie takes her seat during the break while Bobby gets his wrist worked on. "You gonna let some broad beat you?" a spectator shouts.

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When Billie Beat Bobby

by Heathen April 25, 2001
When Billie Beat Bobby King vs. Riggs. All the trappings of a good sporting event are present: cheerleaders, tubas, fans, signs, beer bellies, and expensive souvenirs. Nothing marks a turning point in women's liberation quite like a "Lobber vs. Lover" shot glass or a keychain that reads, "I watched Billie beat Bobby and all I got was this lousy keychain rammed up my nose by an angry drunk man." Bobby is ready -- "I'm an animal, I'm ready for the kill! People all around the world are depending on me for their honor!" he shouts in his dressing room. And he's right, in the sense that virgins around the world are depending on him not to touch them ever, under any circumstances. Billie Jean is getting a quiet massage in her empty room, and Bobby is bragging to his enormous posse that a sheik somewhere wagered one million dollars on his victory. Panting from his verbal excesses, Bobby chokes down his nutrient supplements. As Billie tries to collect her thoughts, her mother -- huh? Why is she there? She didn't want them to play at all! -- is being thoroughly charmed by the fey man who dressed Billie for the match. It's so stupid and irrelevant, I can't believe I just bothered to type it. My fingers are planning rebellion. "Billie's got a maaaahvelous sense of style," coos Fey Man. Billie Jean's mother is so proud that she has to choke back tears, because if her daughter is stylish then she's not butch. Bobby is defending himself again. Someone asks if he bet on Billie Jean to win, and he grins that he bet $15,000 on himself. "I've got to defend my honor here," he says. "You don't think Bobby Riggs is gonna throw the match for some broad, do you?" Oh my God. This movie is making me so angry with its implications that Bobby either threw the match or cheated himself out of a victory by not relaxing. Bobby just sucks, okay? Billie Jean was better. Can't that be enough? At a seventies house -- the same one from earlier, when the woman lobbed a dirty sponge at Bobby's face on the TV -- the suburban mother sets TV trays for dinner while her husband and two sons cheer Bobby. At a nursing home, an old woman says she's rooting for Bobby because he's old. Yeah, well, so is Jack Nicholson, and I won't be cheering for him anytime soon. A bunch of college-age women, sweet sorority sisters most likely, gather in the common room -- curlers everywhere, folks -- and yell for Billie Jean. Finally, an Afro-lovin' dude in a pea-green recliner changes the channel away from the match. Angry, his girlfriend pauses, stares at him, then screams and charges his recliner, knocking it right over as he topples out. That was some fabulous viewing.

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