Dick Lane couldn’t imagine a better way to spend his time. On an otherwise unremarkable night last summer, the onetime king of Texas pool showed his stuff for seven hours, until just after one in the morning: At a Clicks Billiards in Dallas, he shot a two-hundred-point game of straight pool and five lengthy sets of nine ball. “That sounds like a lot for a fifty-year-old man,” he says, “but, heck, I could’ve played more. And the more I play this game, the more I love it.”
He’s not kidding. Over the past three decades, Lane has established himself as the state’s greatest pool player ever, a two-time Southwest Player of the Year who has won more than one hundred tournaments and set benchmarks that his rivals can only dream of (he’s run 324 consecutive balls in straight pool and nine straight racks in nine ball). He’s also been the state’s greatest pool advocate, working tirelessly to make the sport a pro-tour powerhouse on the order of golf and to win it the respect he insists it deserves. The king has been in a kind of self-imposed exile since 1994, when sheer frustration over pool’s slow growth compelled him to resign as the vice president of the Pro Billiards Tour Association—”a bad experience,” he says, that led him to disappear from the circuit. But he resurfaced in 1999, participating in a national event here, a senior there; in April in New York City, he finished second in the biggest straight-pool event of the year. “I’m finally ready to take action,” he says, “to develop my vision and make pool work—to do something to catapult it to a higher place.”
Lane’s passion for the game is not the only thing that sets him apart from his fellow players in Texas poolrooms, where intimates know him as Tricky Dick. There’s also his wealth. Lane was one of the original investors in Clicks, a Dallas-based chain that celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1999 and has 22 locations in four states, including 15 in Texas. Consequently, he’s a millionaire several times over, though a frugal one. He hardly travels, wears no showy jewelry other than an eighteen-karat gold Piaget watch that his mother gave his father, and doesn’t wear expensive suits. He bought a Lexus sports coupe in 1995, but only after driving around for a decade in the same BMW. “I’m just low-maintenance, pragmatic, and not very good at getting outside my comfort zone,” he says.
A devout Christian who has taken courses in bible study at Dallas’ Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, Lane has crafted a monastic existence for himself. He reads constantly—from the Bible to Anthony Robbins’ self-help shtick to personal finance tracts like The Wealth Equation—and revels in moments when he can sit back quietly and listen to Rachmaninoff. Never married, he lives alone in Highland Park in a one-bedroom condominium on Turtle Creek Boulevard, right down the street from Jerry Jones and Trammell Crow. He rented the place for years before buying it—”Which is typical Dick,” says his friend Cathy Vanover, a former pro player whose husband, Bob, was one of the dominant forces in Texas pool for decades. “He’ll study something for years before making a move. He approaches everything as if it were some mathematical equation he needs to solve.” Inside, there are French Impressionist paintings, antique chairs, pool trophies and assorted memorabilia, family photos, and of course, a pool table.
A slight man with thinning brown hair and tiny hazel eyes, Lane looks nothing like the stereotypical pool shark. He’s given to wearing suspenders, has a complexion so pale that you’d swear the sun never laid a ray on him, and often displays the blankly wan expression of someone deeply lost in thought. “One time four of us were in a twenty-four-hour diner,” recalls his friend Dannie Holt, “and we were talking about playing pool, and some guy in the booth right behind us asked if any of us played for money. And we said, ‘Sure, we all do—just pick one of us [to play].’ And, of course, he picks Dick, who happens to be the best of the bunch, because Dick’s got the look of somebody who can’t play a lick.”
The first time I saw Lane compete was in the early nineties in a tournament just outside Chicago. I remember being struck by three things: his painfully slow pace (which, I later found out, made him notorious among his peers), the incredible precision of his play (including his cue ball control), and most of all, the violently odd action of his stroking arm. On his preliminary practice strokes, his arm shook almost to the point of vibrating like a tuning fork. It was a startling sight, and I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Could the guy be that nervous?” On every final stroke, however, he delivered the stick straight through the ball. Only much later did I discover that it wasn’t nervousness at all but the by-product of permanent nerve damage caused by three incidents in his mid-teens: a shoulder injury sustained during a football game, whiplash from being rear-ended by a drunk, and arm strain from throwing too many fastballs as a high school baseball pitcher.
Lane was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and grew up in Wichita Falls, where his father was the president of the City National Bank for twelve years. He remembers being serious-minded as a kid and admiring excellence in all things, but he wasn’t especially interested in his schoolwork; his love of sports was too great. He played football, baseball, and golf, idolized Mickey Mantle and Arnold Palmer, and—sporting a nine handicap in his early teens—won country club golf championships in his age group. He played pool from time to time but only to wind down from other sports. Then, between his junior and senior year in high school, after reading and rereading a small paperback by old-time pool great Willie Mosconi, he suddenly fell in love with the game and became a