Take away tennis and I can give Billie Jean King a good fight for the new library name

At the risk of sounding perhaps a tad self-absorbed, or possibly arrogant or imperious, I take a smidgen of an exception to the City Council’s headlong and rash decision to name the dazzling new Main Library after Billie Jean King rather than, just to pick a name out of a hat, me.

OK, you just made that “pffftsh” sound. I’m sitting right here. That’s a hurtful and dismissive sound, and a little sloppy, too.
Here, take this simple quiz:

  1. What should the new library be named:
    A. Billie Jean King Library
    B. Timothy J. Grobaty Library

All right, that totally didn’t go the way I expected. I’m not married to the “Timothy J” part, it could just be Tim Grobaty Library, or even the Grobaty Library if you want to honor my wife and kids, too. Whatever it takes to change your vote.

It’s easy (and, I would argue, lazy) to argue in favor of Billie Jean King: 39 Grand Slam titles, former Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and Time magazine’s Person of the Year, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 for her advocacy for women and the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who will be recommending the name in Tuesday’s Council meeting, said in a statement that King “is more than an athlete.” Well, so am I. So much so that “athlete” isn’t even the first word that pops into your head when you hear my name.

Let’s do it this way: King went to Poly; I went to Wilson. Point, Grobaty.

King’s written books; I’ve written books. And, because I’ve read all of mine and none of hers, I’m going to go ahead and take that point, too.

Neither one of us graduated from college, but I got an honorary degree from Long Beach City College. King has a china cabinet full of honorary degrees, including from Northwestern, UMass Amherst, Cal State L.A. and several others, but certainly that doesn’t diminish the LBCC honorary associate’s degree that I have somewhere around the house. Is she in the Long Beach City College Hall of Fame? No, because she didn’t go to LBCC. King has an excuse for every one of her failures when it comes to beating me.

I called, in a bit of a snit, my best friend Mayor Robert Garcia to make the case for slapping my name on the new library. He kicked the can down the road.

“You’ve gotta make your case for the Century Club,” he said.

The Century Club is the city’s longtime athletic outfit that funded King’s trip to Wimbledon in 1961. Its current president, the first woman to hold that position, is Shar Higa, who happily is the wife of my faithful colleague Mike Guardabascio. All I’ve gotta do is tell Mike to make his wife change her allegiance in my direction. I told my mayor my plan.

“I don’t know, Shar’s pretty excited about Billie Jean,” he said. “Seriously, it’s hard to think of a more deserving person than Billie Jean King.”

Hard, or impossible?

Garcia threw us a bone: “If it makes you feel any better, there’s a restroom in El Dorado Park with your name on it.”

Seeking clarification, we asked, “On it, or in it?”

“Both.”

You know, the way the politics in this town work, I think I’ll take it. Come by for a rest sometime. On me.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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