The Don Of Boxing
Urban Sports Network
Urban Sports Network - Let's face it: while African-Americans are the dominant players in the sporting scene on the athletic side, you might be hard-pressed to name an African?American who is at the top of his field when it comes to sports business.
No African-Americans own the majority of a sports franchise. And while the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL), and Major League Baseball (MLB) are happy to market an image of diversity and inclusiveness, behind closed doors the world is mighty white. Commissioners David Stern (NBA) Gary Bettman (NHL), Paul Tagliabue (NFL), and Bud Selig (MLB) are all white.
And then there is African-American boxing promoter Don King.
King is hands-down the top businessman in boxing and he typically runs circles around the competition. He puts together the best fights in boxing, and despite his name's association with scandals and lawsuits he consistently inks the best pugs.
King just inked World Boxing Council (WBC) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) heavyweight champion Hasim "the Rock" Rahman after he beat Lennox Lewis in April 2001 to land the twin titles. At the time of the fight, Rahman was signed to promoter Cedric Kushner, who was ready to reap the big payday that comes with promoting the heavyweight with belts. But King stepped in and stole the show as he inked Rahman and immediately set up a bout for him in China against David Izon.
Kushner and Lewis are now suing King. Kushner claims he had a contract with Rahman and Lewis claims his contract calls for a rematch. To add punch to his lawsuit, Kushner is suing King on racketeering charges: the United States Supreme Court just ruled King can be tried on those charges.
"I've been spending more time with lawyers lately than on my own," Kushner told Urban Sports Network. "Mr. King and I obviously have a difference in opinion, and I have no idea if this can be worked out without the courts. Some days I don't even know what I'm going to do. Anything you do with him [Don King] is always a problem. That's the way it is."
Pimps And Priests
Kushner does have a point: King is usually under investigation. But Kushner himself has been brought up on charges while he was in the music industry and is no angel. Kushner and boxing promoter Bob Arum were charged with crimes when they tried to put King and former IBF president Bob Lee out of business and were both fined. The meek have yet to inherit the sweet science.
Arum and Kushner were allowed back in the boxing world shortly after, and there reputations still did not seem to suffer. Arum is often seen as a spokesperson for the boxing world; Kushner is a relative unknown outside boxing circles. King on the other hand is often viewed as the devil in a tuxedo. King, fearful of more negative publicity, did not speak to USN, but some African-American sports businessmen did.
"African-Americans who are successful and dress well," one sports business executive told USN, "and always have to fight the pimps and priest stereotype. Most people either think blacks who are successful are pimps or priests and there is sometimes a double standard."
There is no doubt that King has done wrong in the past: he killed a man in 1966 and spent three years in jail. But in today's boxing world, most of the attention on the negative side is focused on him, when there are many other promoters and businessmen who have been corrupt. Felons love company.
'Only In America'
With Rahman, King controls the IBF and WBC heavyweight belts and also will likely control the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight belt if Rahman beats Izon and then beats the winner of the John Ruiz/Evander Holyfield fight. WBA heavyweight champion Ruiz is fighting Holyfield in China August 4, 2001, on the undercard to the Rahman and Izon fight.
King set the fights up and also set up a similar tournament in the middleweight division. King promotes WBA middleweight champion Felix Trinidad: Trinidad will fight WBC and IBF middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins September 15, 2001 to unify the belts.
Many think Trinidad and Rahman will easily win: if they do King will control the top money fighters in the boxing business. If they lose, it's a sure bet that King will recover and find a way to stay on top.
For better or worse, African-Americans looking for one of their own at the top have to consider the status and success of Don King, the convicted felon who went on to fabulous wealth in the most corrupt sport in the world. "Only In America" could a such a thing have happened, to quote his autobiography. But what happens next? Until a black rises to an ownership or leadership position in big league sports, the only king to behold will be Don King and his courts.