King: Summitt changed the face of sports

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- While rain halted play on the courts outside Tuesday, Pat Summitt was inside an adjacent building receiving an ICON Award from the United States Tennis Association.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Billie Jean King said Pat Summitt changed the face of sports, not just women's sports.

Summitt, the legendary coach of the University of Tennessee women's basketball team, was presented with the 2012 Billie Jean King Legacy Award by the namesake herself, Billie Jean King. The ceremony took place inside the Chase Center, a stone's throw from Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Summitt was one of three honorees, all of whom were celebrated for their contributions to diversity and inclusion -- for having helped "level the playing field, not only in sports, but in society."

Summitt was honored alongside the late Randy Snow, a wheelchair tennis star and advocate for people with disabilities, and the late D. Lee Hamilton, former executive director and chief operating officer of the USTA who served as the chair of the USTA's Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Before showing a video of Summitt's achievements -- she coached the Lady Vols to 1,098 wins and eight national championships in 38 seasons -- King spoke about the NCAA's all-time winningest coach. King said she often watched Tennessee games, and learned from Summitt's steely blue eyes and focused body language on the sideline.

"She showed me you could do anything if you put your mind to it," King said. "And I have a strong feeling Pat will bring that same passion and conviction to this next fight."

Summitt has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and stepped down as Tennessee head coach in April. (The university immediately named her head coach emeritus.)

Since stepping down, Summitt has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House and was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYS in July.

King, a contemporary of Ashe's, said she knows Ashe would have been thrilled that such a pioneering woman was given that award in his honor.

"Pat changed the face of all sports," King said. "Not just women's sports."

Summitt spoke only briefly after accepting the award.

"It is a pleasure for me to be here this weekend," she said. "My thanks to the USTA for honoring me with the Billie Jean King Legacy Award ... that means a lot to me.

"Billie Jean's efforts opened so many doors for so many people and so a lot of us could be able to pursue our passion. I am so glad to be here with all of you."

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