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Jesse Lee manufactured stylish college uniforms for women athletes at a time when their teams mattered a lot less. His pioneering company, Sports Belle, was the first choice of many college teams for years. Then larger companies such as Nike and Adidas elbowed into the business and snatched account after account from Lee as women’s teams blossomed in stature.

Sports Belle declined and Lee’s plant in Knoxville, Tenn., was growing increasingly idle. He had little future left in sports apparel. His final run at profits was a desperate money grab — Lee burned down his plant for $4.7 million worth of insurance money.

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