In late 2005, when Rodney "Rocket" Morris first heard about the International Pool Tour, he was, like many other professional pool players, skeptical of the hype: real pool. real rules. real money. "Everybody who said they were going to do something for pool, it never panned out," says Morris. Slick promoters have always been a staple of the game, and Kevin Trudeau, the founder of the IPT, was as slick as any of them.
Morris knew that Trudeau, an infomercial giant with a history of engaging in questionable multi-level-marketing practices, had already staged a glitzy TV exhibition match between Hall of Famers Loree Jon Jones and Mike "the Mouth" Sigel. "Sigel was the poster boy of the IPT," says Frank Alvarez, a representative of the United States Professional Pool Players Association. "He legitimized it." So did the money. Although the players were mismatched and past their prime, the event paid $75,000 to Jones and $150,000 to Sigel, the winner.
That was reason enough for Morris, 36, to give it a try. His wife was pregnant, and they were just getting by. Besides, Morris was no sucker. He'd been playing pool for a living for nearly 20 years, and had been schooled by the legendary hustler "Hawaiian Brian" Hashimoto and a pool-savvy amputee named Tony Catucci, who sometimes kept his bankroll hidden in his prosthetic leg. Morris had risen all the way from playing for twenties in Honolulu to winning the 1996 U.S. Open championship, earning the nickname "Rocket" for the speed with which he bounced from shot to shot. He'd taken third place and $20,000 in the 2005 World Pool Championship, and second place and $10,000 in the World Pool Masters. More often, Morris, who lives in Spring Hill, Florida, played at regional tournaments, where he sometimes pocketed as little as $150.
So he signed up for the IPT. "I thought, Get as much money as you can, 'cause it's not gonna last forever," he says.
That November, Morris arrived at the IPT King of the Hill Invitational Shootout, in Orlando, and saw Kevin Trudeau in person for the first time. The fresh-faced Trudeau, 43, strode in front of 40 or so of the world's top pool players and announced, "If you want to make money, find somebody who's rich!" and then implied that he owned a Rolls-Royce.
With that, Trudeau launched into a half-hour presentation, complete with handouts, that outlined the future of the IPT, with prime-time television, a worldwide tournament strategy, and dazzling guaranteed payouts. "In '06next yearwe're committed to pay $8 million minimum. In '07 I'm paying out $18 million. In '08 I'm paying out $26 million.
"But wait," Trudeau said, "there's more!"
Anyone could see the pitchman in Trudeau, a onetime used-car salesman, but Morris found the guy hard to dislike.
Trudeau was first drawn to billiards when he worked in a bowling alley that had pool tables while growing up in Boston's northern suburbs. His fascination with the sport deepened when he befriended Sigel, a former world champion who consulted on The Color of Moneyand who ultimately provided Trudeau with the inspiration for the IPT. "I saw that Mike Sigel and other top players have incredible skills. They weren't given the opportunity to show those to the world and make a good living," Trudeau says. "I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to do something that would allow my friends to prosper. And it was a very good business opportunity."