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The Color of Money it Ain't
Pool player strives to change the game's image
By Joey Butler/ staff
When most people think of professional pool players, an image somewhat akin to Paul Newman's character in "The Color of Money" is conjured up.
While it is very common for most billiard players to make a career out of smoke-filled rooms and hustled money, Scott Lee prefers to do it on college campuses.
Lee, a renowned billiards player and trick shot artist, had his fill of the gambling life long ago and is spending all his time promoting the sport he loves.
" I prefer to play the game for the sport it is, and not just for gambling," Lee said.
A nationally certified instructor, Lee spends nine months of the year on the road, bringing his "Traveling College of Billiard Knowledge" to college campuses, local pool halls, and just about anywhere he can scrape up a few yards of green felt. He will be displaying his billiards expertise at the KUC Game Room today from 11 am to 1 pm.
" My love for the game comes out in my presentation, Lee said"
Lee's presentation, other than shot-making basics and some fancy cue work for oooh's and aaah's, includes a billiards history lesson.
" There is evidence indicating billiards was played as far back as 1500 BC," Lee said. "evidence of some type of billiards was even found in the pyramids."
A love for the game led Lee to leave the pro circuit 15 years ago to pursue an exhibition career, citing lack of financial stability and lack of competitive spirit among billiard pros as his reason for bowing out.
Lee claims that most pool tournaments lack big corporate sponsorship because of the hustling image associated with the game, therefore, it is difficult to maintain a living simply playing in tournaments.
Lee said that many tournaments don't have a large enough purse for anyone other than the first place winner to cover their registration fees, which could be as much as $500, and their traveling expenses. That, Lee said, is the reason professional billiard players wind up gambling to get by.
Lee acknowledges that money is a way of putting pressure on players to perform at their peak level, but he thinks there are too many people who think of money as the only reason to play at all.
Big money or no, Lee believes hustling and gambling has ruined the competitive spirit of billiards.
" Playing pocket billiards is not about gambling. It's about competitive spirit, a desire for excellence, and having fun, Lee said. "Many players develop egocentric attitudes and won't play unless money is involved. I play because I love the game."
He quickly pointed out that women are assuming a dominant role in the world of professional billiards. In 1995, 7 of the top 10 money winners were women.
" Women don't seem to get held back by the bad attitude that dominates the profession," Lee said. "They've really come a long way and are being taken more seriously."
Lee's passion for billiards began during his freshman year of college, when famous trick shot artist Jack White performed an exhibition on Lee's Campus.
Lee said he was awestruck by White's performance. He hit White up for some pointers and White even some books for improving his technique. That began a profession and personal relationship that has lasted for 25 years. White not only became Lee's mentor, but the godfather of his son as well.
White, who made a living on the professional exhibition circuit, has passed the torch on to Lee.
" I am lucky to have the opportunity to step into Jack White's shoes, Lee said.
Thanks to his connection with White, Lee has been able to book himself into 80-100 colleges for exhibitions and is currently on a 38 state tour. He eventually plans to travel overseas.
So what does Lee do when he is not on the road? He happens to be an avid skier, which is the only activity that rivals his passion for billiards. outside of skiing, he is a private billiards instructor. He even buys and sells pool tables and cues!
" I want to see more people play the game that I love, well! Lee said. "I aspire to be one of the preeminent teachers in the world."
Lee's students are a source of pride to him. In fact, one of his students just place first in an amateur national tournament.
Of course the obvious question is whether or not Lee goes to pool halls anonymously and takes everybody's money, but he swears that he doesn't.
" I play for fun. If someone I just inform them that I am a professional, and would be happy to play them, but I won't gamble," Lee said. "But every once in a while I run into someone who insists that they can beat me. If they are that adamant I'll go ahead and take their money. That's their own fault. Of course, when you take someone's money they tend to not like you very much."
Lee is doing his best to dispel the image of the hustling pool shark, and promoting instead a love for the game.
" Movies like "The Color of Money" and "The hustler" reinforce interest in billiards, but that image just doesn't exist anymore."