"It seems like I'm getting identified with failed franchises and defunct leagues," says Lee Meade. To prove his point, he recites a curriculum vitae as improbable as the plot of a Thomas Pynchon novel:
?First there was the American Basketball Association. Meade was its public relations director and, later, assistant general manager of the Dallas Chaparrals (1969-70), which eventually became the San Antonio Spurs and joined the NBA in 1976.
?Next he had a tour (1971-73) as public relations director for the World Hockey Association, which folded in 1979 but sent four teams to the National Hockey League. "I think every professional athlete who signs a multimillion-dollar contract should set up a pension fund for those of us who pioneered this area [signing players without reserve or option clauses]," says Meade.
?On to World Team Tennis (in 1974), which didn't turn out quite the way Meade wanted it to. He was general manager and part owner of the Minnesota Buckskins, but they folded after only one season. "You could call the Minnesota Buckskins a failure," Meade admits.
?So too was the International Basketball Association; Meade was the manager of the Munich Eagles (1975). He calls the IBA an "ill-fated effort by some American entrepreneurs who thought because they had money they could shove pro basketball down the throats of Europeans."
?Finally, from 1986 to 1989, Meade was involved with women's Major League Volleyball. In 1987 and '88 he was executive director of the league and in 1986 and '89 he was general manager of the Minnesota Monarchs, one of six teams in MLV. This enterprise, too, had the hallmark of failure. Attendance in New York City averaged 700 in 1987-88; in Chicago, 550. In 1989, the league collapsed and died one third of the way through the season.
But the Monarchs, Meade is quick to note, drew far more fans than their big-city rivals. Once, when nearly 2,400 people crammed into the 1,800-seat Edina Community Center in Minnesota, a fire marshall said to Meade, "Congratulations! Don't ever do it again." So the Monarchs moved to 2,320-seat Melby Hall on the campus of Augsburg College in Minneapolis and averaged more than 2,000 per home game. Which apparently persuaded Meade to play on, league or no league.
Last year, Meade and the team barnstormed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, taking on all comers, including club teams from Holland, Japan and the Soviet Union. Each of the 15 Monarchs players earned $100 a game. Meade worked for nothing, soliciting sponsors, running volleyball camps and doing nonstop promotion.
"He's like the big guy at school who looks out for the little guys," says Elaine Roque, a member of the U.S. national team who toured with the Monarchs last season. "He really believes women deserve equal opportunity in sports."
"He is about as strong a salesman as there is," says Walt Weaver, the Monarchs' coach in 1988. "He's sold some pretty impossible ideas to people. He's Don Quixote out chasing windmills. He has picked the fledgling, no-one-can-do-this sports to become involved with. It's just part of what he is."