Could it have happened?
Given Bobby’s proclivity for gambling and hanging out with mob-types, perhaps it could have happened as then 79-year old former golf pro Hal Shaw described it to ESPN writer Don Van Natta. Bobby’s son (Larry) admitted as much. In fact, after observing how little his father had prepared for the match against King, Larry decided to not even attend the match in Houston.
But what if the so-called hoax was really part of a larger plan in which Billie Jean King and Margaret Court colluded to set up Riggs so that he would pitch the idea to the mob – believing, of course, that he was the mastermind? And all this time, no one knew that the two women were really the ones who orchestrated the ‘fix of the fix’ so that women’s tennis would become the most lucrative sport for women?
Now that Hal Shaw has told his story about overhearing mobsters, there’s another story that needs to be told.
This until-now untold story involved a woman named Sally Haw, who was an Assistant Tennis Pro at the St. Charles Tennis Club in Detroit, where she didn’t actually get paid because let’s face it, women didn’t do sports in those days. In fact, they didn’t even call her an Assistant Tennis Pro, even though she strung rackets, gave tennis lessons, organized leagues and basically ran the Pro Shop.
As it turned out, the women tennis players were embroiled in their own conversation and didn’t even notice the diminutive Haw. Thanks to Haw’s propensity for remembering details she was able to re-construct the conversation perfectly – even though it was 40 years ago.
Much to Haw's surprise, Margaret was the more vocal of the two in this conversation.
"Billie, you’ve got to let me play him first. He’ll never suspect that we are setting him up. Look, everyone knows he’s a gambler and he owes a boatload of money to the mob…”
“That’s not the Bobby I know,” Billie Jean responded. “He would never hang out with mob guys. How do you know he would fall for this?”
“Look at the guys he plays golf with,” Margaret continued. “Do you think he hangs with those guys for their pasta? No way… It’s obvious he’s a mob puppet.”
“It’s not so obvious to me,” Billie Jean continued. “Besides, that’s golf. What makes you think he’d agree to fix a tennis match? He has too much integrity for that!”
“Integrity? Bobby? You cannot be serious!!”
“Margaret, how can you say that?”
“Well, Billie, think about it… C’mon! Bobby has been bugging both of us for months now. He wants to play one of us so he can hype it up and make all this money. Aren’t you getting a little sick of his rhetoric? ‘Even a tired-old man of 55 can beat the No. 1 woman in the world…?’”
“Yes, but I don’t have time for that… we don’t have time for it. We’ve got a pro tennis tour to promote. And what will people say if we lose…”
“Not if you or I lose – when one of us loses… we’ve got to lose the first match so he thinks he can con another one of us into playing a second match. That’s how he sells it to the mob… there has to be a bigger pay day to follow. If he thinks he’s in control, then he believes he can sell it to the mob…”
“How do you know he’ll buy it, Margaret? Heck, how do you know the mob will buy it?” Billie Jean asked.
“Please, Billie. You don’t think I’ve been cultivating this ‘nicest-mother-on-the-tour-image’ for nothing! What do you think Barry does? He’s not content as a stay-at-home dad. He’s been on the take for years. Why do you think he wanted to marry me? He knew he could make millions off my career. I just had to agree not to spout any of that feminist rhetoric. It makes me more believable when the fix goes down.”
“Wow, Margaret, you are blowing my mind!”
“It’s about time!... so what do you think?” Margaret asked as the elevator stopped and the women exited.
Sally leaned forward to hear what King would say, but she knew she dared not follow them. What if they saw her? She knew that either one of them could easily finish her off with a deadly overhead. She had to keep silent. After all, there’s nothing worse than betraying a (woman) tennis player who’s a shill for the mob!
So, why now? Why is Sally coming forward with her story on this, the 40th anniversary of the most famous tennis match ever?
“I finally got fed up hearing stories about what Hal Shaw was saying,” Sally said. “Yes, he overheard the mobsters talking, but they really thought they were in control of the narrative. Of course, they bought into the idea that a woman couldn’t beat a man – that was patriarchy at work! And, of course, ESPN was pumped about sharing that story. They’re all about men’s sports. How could they ever think that women’s advances were legitimate? They had to get the last laugh!...
“But I couldn’t let that happen. That’s why I had to come forward now!”