Only in America would a man with no character take center stage with men who had at least some.
The inaugural induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame should have been an event without a hint of controversy; the black-tie affair should have been a tribute to greatness, a toast to the men who made boxing in Nevada so memorable for most of the past century.
So many great fights were held in Nevada that it would be hard to induct fighters like Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes and Oscar De La Hoya without a bow to the man who made their big-money fights possible.
Yet no event that includes Don King — he of the electrified hair — can ever be without controversy. As big a role as King played in the boxing game, he had just as big a role in its stunning decline and its unsavory reputation.
The boxing landscape is filled with Don King stories — and Don King lawsuits. He might have been the first fight promoter who filled a fighter’s pocket with millions, but King didn’t do so without taking a lion’s share for himself.
An all-star lineup of fighters has, over the years, sued King. From Muhammad Ali to Holmes to Tyson, who once wore the title of the world’s most popular athlete, King has faced allegations of dipping his hands too deeply into money that rightly belonged to the fighters.
Inducting King along with the shining lights of boxing illustrates how unseemly boxing is. It is a sport that has no ethics, a sport that offers second chances to men who don’t deserve them.
King, some people say, illustrates that best.
Don King, now 81, didn’t come into boxing with clean hands. Before breaking into the fight-promoting business, King had been a big-time numbers runner in Cleveland and had two killings on his resume, which earned him a stretch in an Ohio prison.
How King turned from a life of crime to a legitimate businessman says as much about boxing as a person needs to know. It’s the one sport where even the worst of men can appear as pristine as a new pair of Air Jordans.
Appearances have always been deceiving in boxing. The role of good guys and bad guys isn’t as easily discerned in the “hurt business” as it is in, say, pro wrestling, and King had always been accused of preying on men who didn’t understand contracts, profit and loss, and balance sheets as well as he did.
None of this talk about King is fresh. PBS aired a documentary a few years back titled Don King – Unauthorized in which it chronicled the hustles of the ultimate hustler.
From that documentary alone, King made a curious choice for induction into the inaugural class of this boxing hall. His presence brought shame, not fame, to the Nevada ceremony.
Only in America can a “con man,” a mobster like King, stand side by side with men who detest what he did to them; only the state of Nevada would have the nerve to honor a man who lacks any of it.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)