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"A lot of people would have taken the rejection that he's faced and just said, The heck with it," says Dave Mona, a public relations executive and Monarchs shareholder. "Lee keeps picking himself up and—to preserve the metaphor—gets back on the horse."
This might be Meade's most impossible dream: to keep the Monarchs alive until the team has a league. He is now putting together a roster of players for the coming winter and working up a schedule of teams to play here and abroad.
To save money, Meade closed the Monarchs' office during the off-season, sold his house and set up shop in the den of the townhouse he and his wife, Helen, rent in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. "I just signed a nine-month lease, which will help me get through one more season with the Monarchs," he says.
Short and volleyball-shaped, the 62-year-old Meade resembles Sancho Panza more than he does the Man of La Mancha, but he does not quibble with the analogy. His unbeatable foe? "Maybe the windmill that I'm running at is the major-market media. There's no question that the windmill is winning. One of the problems is that most of the people who are now sports editors are my age. They grew up covering sports when it was only men's sports."
Meade should know, he was once one of the enemy. After being a sportswriter at several newspapers, he went on to serve as the sports editor of The Denver Post from 1965 to '67. "It was almost as if life was over. Here I was in my mid-30's, and I was suddenly sports editor of the largest daily newspaper between Chicago and Los Angeles, with no challenge. I don't like to maintain something. I like to build and create."
Such was Meade's frame of mind when he heard over the radio in 1967 that the American Basketball Association was being formed. He remembers turning to Helen and saying, "Now that's something I'd like to be involved in."
Meade got his chance. When he complained to the ABA office about its slipshod record keeping, he was asked "Can you do any better?" Sure, Meade said, and he began keeping stats on a freelance basis. Before long, he left the Post to work in the ABA front office, and a couple of years later he joined the Chaparrals. He takes great pride in the fact that his old team lives on as the San Antonio Spurs. He is equally quick to point out the four teams—Hartford, Quebec, Winnipeg and Edmonton—that survived his days with the WHA and flourished in the NHL after the merger.
Even those teams that "failed" succeeded, in Meade's eyes. The owners of the defunct Spirits of St. Louis of the ABA settled for a share of NBA TV revenue; today they earn as much as $4.6 million a year. "At the time, it didn't look like anything," Meade says. "It turned out to be the most valuable thing the league ever had."
"A lot of the negative stuff you hear about Lee is that he was involved in everything that failed," says R. Steven Arnold, a lawyer and a players' agent who was also involved in all the leagues Meade has been associated with. "That isn't true. People have made a lot of money on things Lee has been involved in. Unfortunately, Lee hasn't been among them."
Meade was out of sports and was selling real estate to help put his four children through college in 1986, when Arnold broached the plan for a new sports league at a reunion of WHA cronies. Meade recalls, "Arnold said, 'It's a women's league,' and my mouth dropped. He said, 'A volleyball league,' and my mouth dropped again. Volleyball was always something you did in the backyard while you were waiting for the steaks to finish."