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Handle With Care

Lee manages to keep the Black Widow out of her home space.

IT'S NOT like the "Black Widow" persona is some act, a facade constructed by teams of marketers and promoters. Rather, it's a flip side - albeit, a very public one - to stay-at-home Jeanette who juggles Cheyenne's karate practice with John's track meets. Just as she's done for the last 17 years, Lee is actively involved in day-to-day family life, which means the Black Widow, no matter how headstrong and daring she may be, is never the tail that wags the dog.

The Black Widow's business plan will change to yield to Lee's growing responsibilities at home. And it's the job of George, senior VP for Washington, D.C.-based Octagon, to keep the balance. "It's about living the life she wants to live," he said, "and using her professionally so she can accomplish that goal."

In business-speak, that means Lee is driving toward "passive income" - meaning merchandising, licensing, ownership of poolhalls, etc. Instead of depending on one-time gigs, like personal appearances at corporate events, Lee is hoping to develop a foundation of long-term contracts that can be reliable sources of income.

"Over time, we've been able to put together a group of contractually committed long-term deals that give her a base of business that we know, no matter what happens, she's going to have," George said.

Lee currently has sponsorship deals with Bass Pro Shops, LiquidWick Pool Cues and the American Poolplayers Association that provide such a base. On top of that, she's still doing exhibitions and making personal appearances (at the rate of $10,000 per) as a secondary source of income.

But that "transactional business," as George puts it, will need to taper off as Lee becomes handcuffed by the physical demands of carrying a child.

"It would be irresponsible to book myself all the way through the pregnancy," she said. "So I thought we'd cut it off in July, just in case. We know my back is weaker than somebody else's, so I know when I'll need to stay at home and take care of myself and my baby."

But until then Lee will continue to work and work and work, just like she has for the last 17 years. The July cut-off date, though, means she'll most likely miss the WPBA U.S. Open, the only other date on the Classic Tour's schedule after March's San Diego Classic.

Lee's extended hiatus from competition, however, is far from a harbinger for a future without pool. Despite the WPBA's suddenly murky future, Lee is as excited to play now as she was 15 years ago. With an influx of international talent (Ga Young Kim, Jasmin Ouschan, Xiaoting Pan) in the last five years, the Classic Tour is as open as it has been in a dozen years.

"All the new faces on tour, it's one of the greatest things about playing," she said. "We've got the best players in the world - that's what the WPBA should be all about."

Despite the tour's talented young core, Lee is intent on showing everyone she's not done yet.

"I'm going to bounce back from this," she said. "I've bounced back from everything else. There's no doubt I'm going to get up. And I'm going to work my butt off so I'll be back in good shape.

"That's what the Black Widow's going to do."

And that statement is the perfect example of the interplay between Jeanette and the Black Widow. What first starts out as almost a pep talk in the mirror, trying to convince herself she can and will bounce back, turns into an announcement for the world to hear: The Black Widow is not going anywhere.

In fact, George originally signed Lee to an Octagon contract because he believed she had to potential to be the most widely known pool player since Minnesota Fats. She had the look, she had the drive, she had the "it" factor that drew audiences from more than just the hard-core pool fans. But now it's no longer a matter of potential, she is that personality.

"For a whole generation of people, the 20- to 40-year-olds, the name they know is the Black Widow," George said. "It's not something based just on winning. It's about moving people, about getting their attention. She did that, and it stuck. She just has that star power that doesn't come along that often."

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