Meet “The Black Widow,” Jeanette Lee (Billiards Hall of Famer)
Female pool greats aren’t getting as much respect as they should be, partially due to the fact they’ve been active in the sport for just a few decades. Still, no matter what criteria you use to rank the most successful female pool players of all time, Jeanette Lee, or “The Black Widow” as she’s commonly known, will forever be one of the best women to ever hold a pool cue.
Lee dominated women’s pool in the ’90s and early 2000s and was ranked world number 1 for many years. She had to overcome many challenges in her highly successful career, and her story is a good source of inspiration, especially for female pool players.
In this article, you’ll get to know her journey to becoming one of the greatest female players. We will tell you how she started playing pool, the championships she has won, and her battles with scoliosis and cancer.
Who is Jeanette Lee?
Jeanette Lee is a retired Korean-American professional pool player. She is famous for her more aggressive playing style and her charismatic personality. Pool fans love the entertainment she provides and her fashion sense – she always wears black when playing pool.
The Black Widow was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 9, 1971, to a family of Korean immigrants. Her mom was a registered nurse, and her father was a smoke shop owner.
Jeanette went to Bronx High School, but dropped out after being diagnosed with severe scoliosis at just 12 years old.
When did Jeanette start playing pool?
One day when Jeanette was 18 (in 1989), she walked into a pool hall in Manhattan, New York, and saw a man sink a ball into a corner pocket. That clean shot fascinated her even though she knew little about pool at that point. From that day, she was drawn to the sport and wanted to know more.
Pool wasn’t part of the original plan. Jeanette wanted to become an elementary school teacher when growing up.
Growing up, Jeanette was always looking for acceptance. Having to deal with scoliosis at a very young age and the biases of being a minority had really shaken her confidence. She also rebelled as a teen. Her rebellion and search for acceptance everywhere led her to bars, and she was always smoking and drinking.
Within three years after she began playing, she mastered the game and turned pro. It would only take her a little over a year after turning pro to be ranked number 1 in the world in women’s pool.
The Black Widow of Pool
Jeanette got the nickname “The Black Widow” from her playing style and how she dresses when playing. She has an aggressive playing style, and anyone that has played her or watched her play knows she is a fierce competitor that “eats competitors alive” when playing. Jeanette always wears all black when playing.
The nickname has made her more famous and has also helped her game. The name and her striking appearance when playing can be quite intimidating. They strike fear in opponents, giving her an advantage long before she starts playing.
The Black Widow has a strong understanding of pool and is very strategic when playing. She is one of the best in the game when it comes to reading the table. Few female players in the sport’s history can match her cue ball positioning ability.
Jeanette Lee’s Championships
The Black Widow dominated women’s professional pool throughout the 90s and won dozens of championships and titles. Here is an overview of some of her major wins:
1. WPBA US Open 9 Ball Championship
Won in 1994 by beating Ewa Mataya Laurance in the finals. The match was dubbed the “Black Widow” vs. “Striking Viking.”
You can watch the match below!
2. Mosconi Cup
Part of the 1994 USA team (featuring 4 men and 2 women – Jeanette Lee and Vivian Villarreal). The USA team beat team Europe 16–12.
3. WPBA Olhausen Classic (2 times)
4. Tournament of Champions (2 times)
5. ESPN Ultimate Shootout
Won the 1999 ESPN Ultimate Shootout and also the 2004 ESPN Ultimate Challenge. She played against some of the sport’s greats (like Johnny Archer) in both events.
6. World Games Nine-ball Singles
Won the women’s singles in the Cue sports category at the World Games 2001 in Akita, Japan.
1. Asian Hall of Fame – She was inducted in 2015.
2. WPBA Hall of Fame – She was inducted in 2013.
3. Billiards Congress of American Hall of Fame – She was inducted in 2013 and cemented her place in a list that includes other pool greats like Earl Strickland and Efren Reyes.
4. Billiards Digest Sports Most Powerful Person – The Black Widow has won the title 4 times – 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007.
5. WPBA Sportsperson of the Year – She was WPBA sportsperson of the year in 1998.
6. Billiards Digest Player of the Year – The Black Widow was the Billiards Digest player of the year in 1994, the year she also won her first 9-ball championship.
Scoliosis and Cancer Battles
Given the challenges she had to overcome, it’s amazing that Janette became one of the greatest female pool players. She was diagnosed with scoliosis at just 12. Her severe form of scoliosis saw her undergo several surgeries in her back, neck, and spine. She even ended up with steel rods in her spine.
The many surgeries and the steel rods in her back left Jeanette with almost constant pain. She had to work hard to strengthen her core just to be able to play pool, but she still had to endure a lot of pain when playing. Her love for the game and competitive nature kept her playing despite the pain.
In 2021 the billiards world was rocked when the Black Widow announced she had been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. The news devastated pool fans worldwide, given how much she is loved. Doctors told her the cancer would not go into remission, but having fought scoliosis in the past, she was not about to give up.
After more than 1 year of treatment, Jeanette announced in May 2022 that her cancer was in remission. She is alive and well, and still doing daily chemotherapy as ovarian cancer tends to be quite aggressive. The long-term prognosis of her cancer is still uncertain.
Where is Jeanette Lee Now?
Jeanette lives in Tampa, Florida, with her family. She married George Breedlove, a professional pool player, in 1996. They have three daughters together but have since divorced.
She stopped playing pool due to her condition. However, she is still actively involved with a few charitable organizations she supports, like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and National Kidney Foundation.
The Black Widow was also recently featured in a documentary about her life, “Jeanette Lee Vs.,” directed by Ursula Liang.
Undoubtedly, Jeanette Lee is one of the most popular pool players ever. She is also one of the most successful players, with dozens of titles over the years.
What truly makes her story amazing is that she has had to overcome many challenges to get where she is today. Janette had to play with debilitating pain from her scoliosis, deal with the biases that minorities face, and fight to find her place in a sport dominated by men.
Her story is an inspiration to female pool players around the world and billiards players in general. She is proof that you can overcome anything, and life challenges should not stop you from pursuing and living your dream.
As always, Happy Shooting!