SI Vault
 
Out of Bounds
Franz Lidz
November 30, 1992
THERE ARE SPORTS NUTS, AND THEN THERE ARE REAL WACKOS LIKE THESE, WHO HAVE CROSSED THE LINE BETWEEN FAN AND FANATIC
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 30, 1992

Out Of Bounds

THERE ARE SPORTS NUTS, AND THEN THERE ARE REAL WACKOS LIKE THESE, WHO HAVE CROSSED THE LINE BETWEEN FAN AND FANATIC

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

By 1989, Levee's ardor had cooled. He switched his allegiance and cash to the Seles camp. But he didn't go quietly. When Seles beat Graf in the final of the 1990 French Open, Levee taunted Steffi and Peter by screaming "Number One!" and pointing toward Monica.

The next year, while Steffi was suffering the worst defeat of her career in the French Open semifinals against Sánchez Vicario, Levee and Peter scuffled in the stands. As Peter was leaving the players' box during the final game of the first set, Levee, who had cheered every point lost by Steffi, said, "Monica is Number One, and this is why she's Number One." Furious, Peter bopped Levee on the head. One wag called it "the most accurate Graf backhand of the day."

As Peter walked away, Levee rose from his seat and shouted at Steffi's coach, Pavel Slozil, "Wail until Wimbledon! I'll have a bodyguard, and he'll break Peter's legs." Three weeks later Levee showed up at Wimbledon with two bodyguards. It was there, he says, that Steffi's brother, Michael, "smiled at me in a threatening manner. I feared for my life." From then until the end of 1991, whenever Levee attended a tournament in the U.S. in which Steffi was entered, he obtained a restraining order to keep Peter's fist and Michael's grin away from him.

In conversation Levee sometimes sounds like a lawyer. And he did graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1969. He often seems very smart. But there's a skittish, trampled quality to him: During the women's final at this year's U.S. Open, which pitted two of his protégées, Seles and Sánchez Vicario, against each other, Levee shifted in his seat with the jerky head motion of a parakeet sidling on its perch. Around his fingers was a tortured daisy chain of rubber bands; at his side, Sánchez Vicario's mother, Marisa. Across the court Levee's fiancée, Jill Genson, a designer of awnings and canopies whom he met through a dating service, sat with Seles's mom and dad, Esther and Karolj.

Of all of Levee's current girls, he moons most over Monica. When he speaks of her, he sounds like a smitten schoolboy: "I call her Miss Monica because she is so young, so clever, so cultured, so classy, so kind. We have a fun time together." Seles describes Levee as "just a friend. He is very good at cheering for me. I always hear his voice."

Levee doesn't seem threatened by the prospect of Monica's having a boyfriend. "I love it because it's normal, and I love anything normal," says the man who travels to events with both his fiancée and his ex-wife, Deborah Levee, in tow. "The class goes on, and I sometimes feel like Mr. Chips. I try not to look at myself as just a cashbox. I'm a psychologist, a morale booster, a surrogate father."

"Jim has a heart as big as the world," says Patty Fendick, who drew an allowance from Levee for three years. "He even saved my life." When she developed a blood clot four years ago at a Florida tournament, Levee leased a Learjet to fly her to a specialist in California.

He can be a demanding dad. "I pay for performance," he says. "The better you do, the more money you get." Perform poorly, and you risk being disinherited. When Fendick's ranking dropped precipitously last year, Levee dropped her. "Patty hasn't spoken to me since," Levee says. "She probably thinks I'm a bastard. I still love her, but I'm sure she resents me."

"Resent him?" says Fendick. "If someone gave you a gold Rolex, diamonds, a Mercedes and 30 grand a year for three years, would you resent him?"

The Women's Tennis Association does. Levee had pledged $125,000 to the Special Olympics and other WTA-sponsored charities, but he withdrew the offer over what he calls a "WTA conspiracy" against Seles. "Monica thinks a lot of the players are envious of her, and she's right," Levee says, his voice raw with anger. "They smile at her face, but when her back is turned, they stick their knives in."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11