By Scoop Malinowski
Boxing insiders share their personal memories and anecdotes of one of ring history’s most important figures, the 92 year old Hall of Fame promoter Don King, who is busy promoting his latest show this weekend in Miami, FL…
Lloyd Carroll (Journalist): “I remember Don King being here at Gallagher’s for a press conference shortly after Jack Newfield had died. He wrote the book ‘Only In America.’ And of course that book was a very unflattering portrait of Don King. So I asked him his memories of it and you got to see a different Don King. He stopped being Don King the character at the press conference to being the real Don King. And you could see how upset he was. It actually seemed like these guys were friends. Like they were kind of playing roles with each other, Newfield figuring the more villainous he made Don King look, the better it is for Don King. And Don King also knew the worse he looked, the more books that Newfield could sell. So it was kind of a symbiotic relationship. But you had a feeling based on that it seemed these guys were closer than the public were led to believe. You could see Don King was genuinely touched by Newfield’s passing. It was not crocodile tears by any stretch of the imagination. King said, When I go to the next world I look forward to talking to Jack and resolving some of our differences. But you could see he was very upset.”
LeRoy Neiman (Artist): “He took me up to Montreal to watch Duran and Ray Leonard. We sat together. He was so excited when Duran got that decision. He was really, really happy. He took me to Zaire. He took me along to all those fights. He took care of all my expenses, he was very generous. He kept his word. I like Don King a lot. And I’ve had my problems with him. Don King is a unique creation. He created himself. He built up that vocabulary he has in the prison library. He’s amazing. When I see him now, he says, ‘You have to do my portrait…before it’s too late!'”
Eric Bottjer (Matchmaker): “I worked (as matchmaker) for Don King for two years and I’d be lying if I say I knew him. I don’t. But I can say that he runs his business very professionally. He is more corporate than any boss I’ve worked for. He wants everything in writing and he is one of the few promoters who adheres to the Muhammad Ali law. Behind the scenes he is very calm and his work ethic and intelligence are unmatched. He was a good boss. As a man, I think he is the epitome of this country – all that is bad and good. He has committed terrible acts in the past and can be overbearing, greedy and bombastic. But he also has created tremendous opportunities and wealth for many people. He donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities and organizations every year. He cares about his legacy and I think it bothers him that his critics don’t balance their attacks with pointing out the good he has done.”
Number two – I was covering a college basketball game and sitting in the Garden’s press room with Sid Gatling Jr., a friend and graduate with me from NYSAS. Gatling had landed a job at WMCA as John Sterling’s producer. Well, we’re sitting there and in walks DK. Both Sid and I both now knew Don well. Don greeted us and I said, ‘Hey Don I didn’t know you liked college basketball?’ Don then told us he wasn’t there for the game, he was merely passing through. I’ll never forget what he said to us. ‘Mel, Sid my man, I have a piece of paper here that will guarantee Muhammad Ali and George Foreman $5 million dollars to fight in Africa.’ He added that he was on his way to a meeting with the people that would make that happen. That was the fight that made Don King, Don King. I’ve often said that when he walked out that door with that paperwork he became the legendary Don King, greatest promoter that ever lived.”
Bob Arum (Rival promoter): “I was going to Panama with Mike Trainer. And we were going to meet with Carlos Eleta – to make the Duran Leonard fight. And King had no contact with Duran. And how he knew or what, but I’m in the first class lounge at Kennedy Airport, he walked in. We couldn’t get rid of him. And he stayed with us the whole time. And he ended up as co-promoter of the fight [laughter].”
Dennis Rappaport (Manager): “Don is extraordinary. When I was insisting on parity (for Holmes vs. Cooney) he wasn’t sure why he wasn’t able to get to me. So first he thought I might’ve been a bigot. Then he found out I was almost lynched by the Klu Klux Klan. So at his hotel suite in Chicago he brought Jesse Jackson who tried to convince me that if I allowed Cooney to get parity, I’d be retarding the civil rights movement. And I said, Reverend Jackson, with all due respect, the history of boxing reflected that the biggest attractions were Sugar Ray Robinson, Leonard and Joe Louis – they weren’t Ingemar Johansson and Gerrie Coetzee. So it’s not the complexion, it’s the charisma. I said, Cooney has the charisma and Holmes has the title. That’s why it’s parity. He put his hand on my head, looked at Don King, said, ‘God bless this crazy man. Don it’s no use [smiles].’ Don is just an unusual personality that doesn’t come along very often. We’ve had our bitter feuds. But you have to respect his accomplishments and his energy. (Did you get parity?) Yes [smiles].”
Larry Hazzard (Former N.J. Commissioner): “Don King is one of my favorite people in the world. And please print every word. It’s very difficult to think of any one particular anecdote because when you mention the name Don King, that mentions it all, okay? He is the greatest boxing promoter in the history of the sport. And in addition to that, in my opinion, he is one of the greatest human beings who God ever placed on this earth. And I don’t want to hear any of that shit about what other people said and all of that, you understand? Because people love to beat him up. Okay? But in my opinion Don King is a great man. He’s a great man. And, really, if you want to have some extra time, we could just sit down and you could just fire away question after question. Because I want the world to know this. And, see, one thing that you have to understand, that Don King, when you look at his history and being a black man in America, he represents, in almost every aspect, what this country is all about. Because for him to come the way that he came, and he where he is today, says it all for America. And when he says that America is the greatest country in the world – a lot of people think that he’s bullshitting about that. Well, if he is, he’s a prophet. Because absolutely what he is saying is he’s a prime, living example that America is the greatest country in the world. Because no where else in the universe could a Don King exist. But in America.”
Tim Smith (New York Daily News Columnist): “When I started covering boxing in my second incarnation with The New York Times, somebody told me, Just be prepared because Don is going to call you up and MF you one day. And he does this to all the new writers that get on the beat. And he does this to soften you up and then get you to come on his side. So it happened to me on Christmas Eve in 1998. I’d gone away on vacation. And this was the first attempt to try and make Holyfield-Lewis at The Garden. Seth Abraham told me the fight fell apart because Don King wanted $5 million off the top of the promotion. So I couldn’t get a hold of Don, I was new on the beat. I didn’t have all of Don’s numbers, so I left messages. And I wrote the story based on what Seth had told me. So, Christmas Eve we were on vacation in Hilton Head. After a walk on the beach I got back late in the afternoon and had like five messages on my phone. It was my boss, frantically calling me, ‘You gotta call in. Don King is going nuts over something you wrote this morning. Call Don right away.’ So I called Don like right away to find out what was going on. Don gets me on the phone and proceeds to MF me for like an hour and a half! It was so bad – I was on the phone for so long – my wife kept coming in saying, ‘We need to go out to dinner, what’s going on? You’re still on the phone?’ I said, I can’t get away. The lull would stop and then he would MF me some more. I mean, it was some of the worst stuff I ever heard. So at the end of it – I didn’t take it seriously because somebody had told me this was gonna happen – if I didn’t have a forewarning I would have been shattered or whatever. So at the end of it Don goes into his, ‘Oh, we gotta stick together brother, I’m gonna give you all the news, I’m gonna make you big in the boxing business, you just had a mistake right here but that’s okay, I’m gonna forgive you. So next time I’m gonna give you all the news and next time we gonna rule this thing brother! So anything you need, here’s all my numbers. You call me any time of day you need anything call me.’ So that’s my Don King story [laughter].”
Bobby Goodman (VP Boxing Operations & Public Relations): “I’ve known Don since the early 70’s and from the very first time we me, and I think it was in Madison Square Garden, where he was trying to pitch one of his boxers, I knew there was something special. I could hear him, long before I could see him. The Garden Boxing offices were just off Eighth Avenue on 31st St. Us longtime ‘boxing junkies’ would wander in and out of there regularly to say hello. He was talking to John F.X. Condon, then the public relations director of MSG Boxing and the voice of the Knicks. John introduced us and the first thing I remember was that he was bigger than life. He stuck out his big hand, with a big diamond encrusted ring and said, “How’re you doing Bobby Goodman, we’ll be working together someday.”
It wasn’t long after that when Don sought out my father, Murray Goodman, and myself to handle some promotions he was doing in conjunction with Video Techniques., who we had already done some things with. He was infectious, we were doing his promotions, publicity and he even named me his Matchmaker and Director of Boxing. There was little time for anything else but his work and he was truly amazing coming up with the great fights — Foreman-Frazier, Foreman-Ali ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, and Ali-Frazier III ‘Thrilla in Manila’. He was truly amazing and through it all during those many years — he never broke his word.
I left him for about 12 years when I ran Madison Square Garden Boxing and then my own company, but rejoined him about 12 years ago. He’s one of the most well-known figures throughout the world, always has time for the people in the street, and is still keeping his word. Even while I was at the Garden — he came in and did a few shows. We never really lost touch and I’m glad we didn’t. Sure – there were some bumps, we were competitors for some years – but we always worked it out. He’s always had very loyal people around him and I’m proud to say that I’m one of them.
I’ve learned a great deal from him and he’s been one of the most important people in my professional life. There have been many including my father, but Don and the over 30 years, I’ve known and worked with him, has to be right there near the top. Guess what? He still hasn’t broken his word! He’s 76-years-old and still going like the Energizer Bunny. It will be sad to see him leave the business, because he’s been such a great promoter and legend. My life for myself and my family has been a much better one, thanks to the friendship and leadership of Don King.”