Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were in a relationship for more than 40 years before getting married in secret in 2018
Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss are not only life partners, but also businesswomen, philanthropists and legendary tennis stars.
The pro tennis alums first met in 1966, just after King married attorney and real estate broker Larry King. Though King and Kloss crossed paths for the first time when Kloss served as King's ball girl, it wouldn't be for another nearly 20 years that the two athletes got together.
For King, discovering her sexuality was a journey, she told PEOPLE. Sexuality is "a continuum. You're finding your truth, and it doesn't have to stay the same," King said. "I only liked guys when I was young. I didn't think about girls. And then all of a sudden I'm like, 'Oh my God, what's happening?' My truth was changing over time. It took me forever."
After King and Kloss later got to know one another — and after her divorce from Larry in 1987 — they began a romantic relationship. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that they officially got married in a secret ceremony in front of three people.
"I felt very married to Ilana, whether I had a piece of paper or not," King shared with PEOPLE. "But I'd had a big problem with trusting and it meant a lot to show my trust in Ilana."
Though she was in a relationship with Kloss for 40 years before they tied the knot, King felt it was important to make it official. "Years from now, I never want anyone to question how much I was committed to you," she wrote to Kloss in her 2021 memoir, All In.
So, who is Billie Jean King’s wife? Here’s everything to know about Ilana Kloss and her relationship with the tennis legend.
She made history in women’s tennis
Before going pro, Kloss took home the girls' singles title at the 1972 Wimbledon tournament and later, won the SA Doubles title alongside Linky Boshoff in 1973, 1975 and 1977. Amid Kloss' wins, in 1974, the Johannesburg native became the youngest No. 1 player in South African history and took home the United States Open juniors single title.
That same year, Kloss joined the World Team Tennis' San Francisco Golden Gaters and competed in the WTT Finals the following year. She left to play in Europe but returned to the team in 1978.
By 1976, she was No. 1 in the world for doubles and ranked No. 19 in singles. As a professional, she won titles at the U.S. Open, U.S. Clay Courts and Hilton Head, in addition to international titles from the Italian Open, German Open, Maccabiah Games in Israel and the British Hard Courts Championship.
Some of her titles in Kloss’ résumé include U.S. Open Doubles Champion, French Open Mixed Doubles Champion and U.S. Open Over 35 Mixed Doubles Champion.
She met King in 1966
In 1966, King played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and it was there that she met Kloss, who was working as a ball girl. As it turns out, this wasn't a coincidence since Kloss was a fan of King's tennis skills and jumped at the opportunity to watch her play.
“We'd all fight to ballgirl for her — especially at net where we'd get more work,” Kloss wrote on the Women's Tennis Association website in 2020 of their first time meeting. “It's the first memory I have of seeing a female athlete live — we didn't have TV and any tennis that wasn't local we would have listened to on the radio — and she brought this amazing energy, focus and sense of the theatre to the court."
She continued, "It was electrifying. She was a serve-and-volleyer and she was all-in. That's something I've seen her be throughout her life — everything she takes on is 100%.”
She works with King
In 2014, Kloss co-founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative alongside her partner. The endeavor’s vision is that "everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, ability, or sexual orientation should have equal rights, opportunity and access."
Kloss also serves as the CEO of Billie Jean King Enterprises. The company is women-owned and is a women-led investment, consulting and marketing firm. Its goals are to build inclusive workplaces, grow companies that are created and led by women and leverage their brand representation.
Elton John nudged King and Kloss to get married
When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, King and Kloss saw “more and more” of their friends tying the knot. This was coupled with the “Rocket Man” legend nudging the couple to wed.
"Elton [John] had run to the altar with David Furnish soon after same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.K., and he started nudging Ilana and me to consider it. He even offered to sing at our wedding if we’d take the plunge," King wrote in her 2021 memoir, All In.
The couple’s hesitation to get legally married stemmed from King's “conflicted feelings” about the institution of marriage. King also noted that fellow tennis legend John McEnroe also encouraged the couple to make their partnership official.
"John McEnroe saw me at Elton’s Smash Hit fund-raiser in Las Vegas and needled me: 'C’mon, Billie Jean! Why not get married? Wrap it up and put a bow on it already!' " she recalled.
They wed in a secret ceremony
On Oct. 18, 2018, King and Kloss tied the knot in secret. They decided to marry to honor the activists who fought to legalize all marriage. The “I dos” took place at former New York Mayor David Dinkins’ Manhattan apartment, who also officiated the ceremony. The only other people present were his wife, Joyce Dinkins, and an aide to serve as witnesses.
"Nobody threw rice or smashed wedding cake in the other's face," King wrote in her memoir. "One of the brides wore jeans and a lovely red scarf and the other had on a black shirt, a comfortable warm‑up suit, and pearls — ha! — a personal touch of glamour that Ilana still teases me about."
It wasn’t until the release of King’s memoir that even their closest friends learned of their marital status. They wanted to have something to share with just one another.
"'So much of our life has been public, keeping this private was something special we could hold on to, just for us,' " King quoted Kloss telling their friend in her memoir. "'We didn't need the world to know. It was just about Billie and me and how we felt.' "
She was the CEO and Commissioner of World TeamTennis
From 2001 through 2018, Kloss acted as the CEO and commissioner of World TeamTennis, per her LinkedIn. It was co-founded by King, Larry and Dennis Murphy in 1987. The company is the leader in professional mixed-gender team tennis competitions for numerous divisions at different skill levels. Along with the competitions, the organization also offers news and other digital content.
"If you have ever seen a WTT match you have seen my philosophy of life in action — men and women, competing together, on a team and both genders making equal contributions to the result," reads a statement by King on the organization's website.
She has a number of accolades and holds roles on several boards
Kloss is no stranger to accolades and taking on charitable roles. In 2007, Kloss was named the Sports Business Woman of the Year by Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. Three years later, she was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1983, she received the Coach of the Year honor for coaching the Chicago Fyre team in a WTT Championship. She was also a player and coach of the Miami Beach Breakers in 1985.
Kloss is also on the board of trustees of the Women’s Sports Foundation and an executive board member of the Tennis Industry Association. Additionally, she is on the board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and was a past advisor to the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association.
She and King are also dedicated investors. The couple invested in the Los Angeles women’s professional soccer team, Angel City Football Club, alongside Candace Parker, James Corden, Lindsey Vonn and more.
"We need everyone to invest in women’s sports and [partner Ilana Kloss] and I are proud to stand with the Angel City FC ownership group and help make new history in Southern California sports," King said in a statement in 2020.
She convinced King to return to tennis
After retiring from tennis in 1983, King took a long break from the sport. It wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic that her wife convinced her to play for fun again.
"Ilana got me playing again during COVID," the retired athlete told Town & Country in August 2023. Despite King's "horrible knees" and shoulder issues, she decided to pick up a racquet and hit the ball with Kloss.
"I was so bad at the beginning, but Ilana's very patient," King recalled. "She could put it right on my racket. It was glorious. It's great. It brings back memories."
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