On Sept. 20, 1973, Billie Jean King walked onto a Houston, Texas, tennis court in an effort to prove that women could play just as good as the men. 40-plus years later, her infamous tennis match against Bobby Riggs is heading to the big screen in Battle of the Sexes. And, while there's a lot in the movie that seems unbelievable, I can confirm that this one detail is true: yes, Billie Jean King really did give Bobby Riggs a pig.
In the film, the baby pig that King, as played by Emma Stone, gives Riggs (Steve Carell) is only briefly shown during a montage of the two players doing press. With cameras flashing, Riggs continues to embrace sexism at large as King presents him with a small pig, a reflection of his self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig identity. The short, but funny scene, is an amusing take on how these two athletes played into the media hype that became the Battle of the Sexes. In real life, however, the idea that a professional tennis player — unlike Riggs, King was still competing at the time of the match — would go through the trouble of bringing a baby pig to a tennis match is pretty ridiculous. And yet, it's just one of the many outrageous details in Battle of the Sexes that actually taken from the real showdown.
At the time of the Battle of the Sexes, both King and Riggs were embracing the publicity aspect of the match. King wanted desperately to prove that not only could a woman beat a man at his own game, she could do it on the court. After weeks of sexist comments and taunts — "the best way to handle women is to keep them pregnant and barefoot," Riggs once said, via History — King called him out and proved she had a sense of humor by giving him a pig. She knew what he was, and she let it be known, but she also understood the entertainment value of it all, hence bringing him a real, squealing piglet.
Looking back on the match, King has conceded that, though it was a huge step forward for female athletes across all sports, it was also a huge spectacle for entertainment. "It was pure entertainment," she told NPR's Morning Edition in 2008. "Bobby gave me a big Sugar Daddy because he was getting a lot of money from Nabisco, and then I gave him a piglet, a little baby, with a little bow around his little neck. He was so cute." Today, one would assume the piglet was nothing more than a showbiz prop, but it must be said that King actually gave the pig to Riggs. It was not on loan from a local animal farm, nor was it immediately dropped off at an animal shelter.
The circus-like environment of the Battle of the Sexes probably wasn't the best thing for the little pig, named Larimore Hustle in honor of Riggs' middle name (Larimore). The piglet Larimore almost got lost in the chaos of the day, but he was recovered safe and sound at the end of the day. However, he did not go home with Riggs. According to a follow up article in The New York Times, Riggs decided not to keep the pig. Instead, he gave his new pet to singer Lyle (Slats) McPheeters. McPheeters had previously written a song called "The Ballad of Bobby Riggs," and three years after the match, in 1976, McPheeters released a track called "The Larimore Hustle (The Pig)." How... sweet?