I talk to both boys and girls about being professional athletes…It’s a very high-risk endeavor. It’s easier to be a lawyer or a doctor. The percentage of people making it in professional sports is minute. For instance in women’s tennis or men’s tennis, about 150 out of the whole world in tennis can make a living, actually make a profit. Because it costs $100,000 just to break even. It costs a lot. I give them facts about realities, but never discourage them. I always say, “If you want to go for it, you go for it,” because over time competition takes care of itself. It just does.

And competition is important for young people. We’ve gotten in the mood that everybody deserves a trophy. No, children need to understand competition eventually. Not in the beginning, when they’re very young, but by the time they get to nine, ten, eleven they need to understand we’re going to have to compete, not only in the United States, we’ve got the whole world to compete with now, and sports is a microcosm of society. We used to have a lot of people in the top hundred from the United States. Got very few now. Why? The rest of the world caught up. The same in technology, they’ve gone ahead of us. It’s the way it is, kids. So, American kids: “Wake up, smell the coffee. You’ve got to compete. That’s life.”

(These are excerpts from the book Wisdom, created by Andrew Zuckerman. Billie Jean was the only sports talent of the 50 elderly celebrities mostly from the arts, political activism and government who were interviewed for this book, which was published by PQ Blackwell in association with Abrams, New York.)