Don King At 75
By Thomas Hauser
There are times when it's hard to like Don King. And there are times when it's hard to dislike him.
King is unique; a man of foresight, vision, and (some say) foul play. Hard-working, brilliant, charismatic; he's one of the most complex people ever to grace the American scene. His rise in the sweet science is almost as remarkable as Muhammad Ali's. He is an icon and a legend in his own time.
King has given us all an amazing ride. With his trademark hair and "only in America" sloganeering, he has stamped his persona on the sweet science more visibly than all but a handful of legendary champions. On August 20th, he will celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday. In honor of the occasion, herewith a sampling of quotations from and about Don King.
Don King [on the morality of his first career as a numbers czar in Cleveland]: When you're poor, black, and without formal education, there aren't many things white society allows you to do. The numbers was statutorily illegal, but who knew about statutes. White people were going to church, playing bingo, and nobody was bothering them. They set aside the whole state of Nevada to gamble in. So why did they bother us when we had policy?
Mark Kram: Don King is a man who wants to swallow mountains, walk on oceans, and sleep on clouds.
Don King: Jail was my school. I had one of the most delightful times under desperate conditions. I read Aristotle and Homer. I got into Sigmund Freud. When I dealt with William Shakespeare, I got to know him very well as a man. I love Bill Shakespeare. He was some bad dude. Intellectually, I went into jail with a peashooter and came out armed with a nuclear bomb.
Don Elbaum: Don King is one of the greatest promoters God ever created. And he's one of the greatest con men and hustlers God ever created.
Don King: I'm a black man from the ghetto, an ex-convict. I came out of the penitentiary to rewrite history. The fact that I'm still standing is a phenomenon. People said I had a snowball's chance in hell when I started in this business. But sometimes a snowball turns into an avalanche.
Jeff MacGregor: Don King is smarter than you are. Question him, and he will batter you with nonsense. If you think him witless, he will outwit you. Shiftless, he will outwork you; then break you for the insult. He is the ruthless clown, the numbers-racket genius, the self-mocking jailhouse cribber of misremembered Shakespeare. And brush up on your Bible because even Satan uses Scripture when it suits him. Hungering, even as he eats, he is hunger itself, voracious, and the feeding makes him hungrier still.
Don King: White America didn't exactly open up its arms to me. I had to work harder than most people for what I got. When I started in boxing, I had to go around the world to places like Zaire and Manila before I could be accepted in my native land of America. I wasn't invited to any board meetings. I had to kick down the doors.
Jay Larkin: Don King is Don King. And nobody else comes close.
Don King: I'm in the hope business. I make the impossible possible.
Cedric Kushner: Don King can find six different ways to steal the same dollar, and he'll do anything and everything to remain on top. In a perverse sort of way, I admire that.
Don King: All I ever ask for is fair play because fair play gives me an advantage. If I get fair play, then my own work ethic, my own ability, and my own creativity will ensure that I prevail at anything I do.
Hugh McIlvanney: Looking for fair play from Don King is like asking a wolverine to use a napkin.
Don King: Anything you can do, I can do better. That's a song they taught me when I was a boy; and I took it very seriously.
Vitali Klitschko: Don King sang to us once at his house in Las Vegas. He sat at the piano and began playing. I had no idea he was so good. Then I noticed the pedals moving automatically. His feet weren't on them. The piano was playing by itself. I realized you have to be careful with this guy. Everything is sleight of hand.
Don King: Black people are a loving and accommodating people, which explains why I'm so loving and accommodating.
John Schulian: Don King has a smile that renders flashbulbs unnecessary.
Don King: You cannot lead the people unless you become a servant of the people first. I'm the promoter of the people, by the people, and for the people. My magic lies in my people ties.
William Rhoden: Don King takes the Declaration of Independence and uses it as a shield, a mirror, and a sledgehammer.
Don King: You can't do anything without public opinion. Public opinion is everything in boxing. I defer to the public. If the public wants a fight to be made, I'll make it.
George Foreman: Don King talks faster than most people can think.
Don King: If the truth stands in a man's way, then he's heading in the wrong direction.
Seth Abraham: Never accept anything that Don King says as true.
Don King: I know what black and white means in America. A white man can tell a lie and it's believable. A black man can tell the truth and it's suspect. Racism is institutionalized as a daily practice in America. People get mad at me and say, "Oh, he's playing the race card." I'm playing the race card because that's the card they dealt me.
Jeremiah Shabazz: Don views fighters like a snake views frogs. They're only good as something to eat. He charms them and then he swallows them. And after they're used up, all you see is their bones.
Don King: Giving people opportunity in this great land of opportunity is what I'm about. A lot of fighters never would have had a chance if it weren't for me. These are the untouchables, the persona non gratas. I reach out and heal them.
Ferdie Pacheco: I regard Don King with the same respect and awe that I regard a mamba snake from the Amazon. The best way to befriend King is at a distance; a great distance.
Don King: They say, "Don King is robbing and stealing from the fighters." The fighter was starving to death before he came to me. He didn't have anything to be robbed of.
Larry Holmes: Don King has made a lot of fighters rich. And Don King has made a lot of fighters poor.
Don King: The deals I've made should be textbook deals. They should be taught at Harvard and at historically black colleges.
Mike Tyson: People don't pay to see Don King fight.
Don King: I don't comment no more on Mike Tyson. Don't have to. Even Ray Charles can see what's happening. Mike Tyson has all the qualities of a dog except loyalty.
Emanuel Steward: Don doesn't get fighters to sign with him just by offering them a lot of money. He signs them by getting inside their heads.
Don King: Don't tell me it can't be done. Tell me how you can get it done.
Hasim Rahman: Don can make a lot of things happen, good and bad.
Don King: I don't have a contract with Lennox Lewis, but I have a relationship with Lennox Lewis. A contract is a piece of paper with words on it. A relationship is better.
Lennox Lewis: In Don King's entire history, I haven't seen where he helped anybody other than Don King. He may have promoted them, but that was only helping himself.
Don King [on his plan to stage fights in Irag to raise the morale of American military personnel stationed there]: I'm going to be the black Bob Hope of boxing.
Lou DiBella: Don is the only person in the world who can promote a fight by force of personality. Look at what he did in St. Louis, selling out Cory Spinks against Zab Judah. No other promoter in the world could have done that.
Don King: I do things all the time that are super-extraordinary, and then my adversaries try to make it seem like my accomplishments are only extraordinary.
Richie Giachetti: Don King is a liar and a thief, the greediest bastard I've ever known. He talks about fairness and equality, but he wants everything for himself and doesn't give anything to anybody. I spent years hoping Don would change. He didn't and he won't. It's like, you can take a tiger and paint him yellow with spots, but sooner or later the paint wears off and the stripes come back again. The man's greatest asset is that he was born black, because the fighters are black. He knows them. He knows how to rile them, how to sweet-talk them. He'll say and do whatever it takes to win them over. And all the while, the man is so insecure he goes around wearing his hair like a fucking idiot so people will recognize him.
Don King [on his jewelry]: If you've got it, flaunt it. The baubles get attention. If I wear diamonds, I get the ear of those within the system who are less fortunate than I am and who want to get to the top like I did. It's like the bait going on the hook for the fish. Young pugilists see the glitter and sparkle, and it draws them to me like a moth to a flame. Then, once I do my job properly, the job supercedes the baubles.
Richie Giachetti: If I was a fighter and needed a promoter, who would I take? Don King. The man is the best. Don King delivers.
Don King [when asked who, other than himself, has the best bling in boxing]: I don't know. For the first time in my life, I'm speechless. After me, it don't matter.
John Schulian: Don King doesn't care for a minute if you consider him a tasteless joke. To do that is to drop your guard; and Don King makes his living off such carelessness.
Don King: "Setback" is in my vocabulary now and then. But "failure"? Never!
Earnie Shavers [on sitting next to King during a flight from Paris to New York]: Don is the only man I know who can talk non-stop over an entire ocean.
Don King: I just want to help remove the villainy from boxing and protect the innocent people who are doing the best they can for the sport I love. I'll stay in boxing for as long as I can help someone. It's a spiritual thing for me.
Craig Hamilton: Don King's only loyalty is to Don King. Anyone who thinks anything different is deluding himself.
Don King: I talk with bravado, but I'm really a henpecked guy. My wonderful wife Henrietta controls all the money in the family and tells me what to do completely.
Don Majeski: Getting up to speak after Don King is like being in the walkout bout after Ali-Frazier.
Don King: If I could go back in time and have dinner with one person; let me think. There's Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, Winston Churchill. I think that Frederick Douglas would be my first choice.
Jay Larkin: Don tallks a lot but Don is extraordinarily careful about what he says. It might not seem that way; but Don tells you exactly what he wants to tell you and not a word more.
Don King: If there's one person in all of history I would have liked to promote, it would be Jesus Christ. We'd have made a lot of money together and put it to good use helping people.
LeRoy Neiman: A little of Don goes a long way.
Don King: Money is liberating. And I love freedom.
Jay Larkin: No business school prepares you for the business of boxing. Don King chews up MBAs and spits them out when he's done.
Don King [on the fight between Chris Byrd and Andrew Golota]: I didn't make this fight. God made it. I thought that Chris Byrd would be fighting Derrick Jefferson, but Derrick got cut in his last fight. Right after that, I was staring at the clouds in despair when a bright religious light shone down from heaven and a voice said unto me, "Put Chris Byrd in against Andrew Golota." And that moved me deeply because nothing could be more fitting in this Holy month of April, the time of The Resurrection, than to resurrect the career of Andrew Golota.
Craig Hamilton: Anyone who says that Don King is no worse than any other promoter doesn't know what they're talking about. Of course, King is worse than the others. That's why he's more successful.
Don King: If you cast your bread upon the water with faith, you get back cash. If you cast your bread upon the water without faith, you get back soggy bread.
Jeff MacGregor: He is the P.T. Barnum of our age, the endlessly spieling barker at the tent mouth of the Don King Big Top. Once inside, we find that he's the only returning attraction on the bill. Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Tyson; all come and go, tracking bloodied sawdust after them. But the ringmaster never leaves.
Don King: I like being number one. Unless you're the lead dog, the scenery never changes. In my humble opinion, the fact that I've been number one for three decades is proof positive of God's plan.
John Schulian: I have so little regard for Don King. It's hard to imagine how hard his heart must be. I'll bet King has a lump of coal in his chest.
Don King: Ain't nobody who can promote a white guy like I can.
Pat English: It drives me nuts. At Main Events, we agonize over meeting our contractual obligations. And Don doesn't have that agita. Don views a contract as the starting point for a new round of negotiations. There's a difference between a Don deal and a done deal. A deal with Don is never done.
Don King: You don't get what you deserve in life. You get what you negotiate.
Roy Jones [on the many delays in closing the deal for his fight against John Ruiz]: When you have the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and the best pound-for-pound promoter in the world, naturally it's going to be tough negotiating. Don is Don, and Don is going to be Don.
Don King: Bob Arum would rather break a deal than make one. I've never seen a guy like him. But Bob Arum couldn't beat me doing anything. The man has no imagination. He's standing on the earth. He has no wings; he can't fly.
Ferdie Pacheco: Think of Don King as a sledgehammer and Bob Arum as a stiletto.
Don King: Where I come from, you help your friends and kick your enemies in the ass. Boxing is the only business in the world where people help their enemies and kick their friends in the ass.
Hugh McIlvanney: No one ever swung a kick at a competing promoter's crotch with more accuracy or élan than Don King.
Don King: I'm always amazed at the number of people who work against me for free; but if we work together, they want to get paid.
Bob Arum: One thing I will say; anywhere that Don King goes, people pay attention.
Don King: I never met a man I couldn't work with.
Evander Holyfield: Life is a lot easier not dealing with Don King. You can't trust a person when you have a hard time with every word they say.
Don King: They can't outthink me. They can't outwork me. So they try to sully my reputation with the worst kind of lies and calumniation. It's remarkable that I even exist under the type of vilification, castigation, and character assassination that I have to live with daily.
Craig Hamilton: Boxing is the perfect environment for Don King.
Don King: Despite the vicious and scurrilous attacks upon me, I have pledged that I will remain steadfast and true to all of my brothers and sisters and to my dreams. There's no end to the poisonous darts and arrows that my adversaries propel at me. But I just keep pursuing my dream and waving the flag and believing in America.
Bobby Goodman: Don gets blamed for everything from the Johnstown flood to the burning of Atlanta. Anything you can think of; someone blames Don and some people believe it.
Don King: I'm the greatest promoter of all time. I put Cain in with Abel.
Jose Sulaiman: Don King is the true heavyweight champion of boxing.
Don King: Sometimes greed makes a man do the wrong thing. But my word means more to me than any amount of money. My word is my bond. My word is a sacred trust. I would never ever go back on my word. My credibility means more to me than life itself.
Cedric Kushner: Not only wouldn't I buy a used car from Don King, I wouldn't buy a new car from Don King.
Don King: I've been around a long time. And what I've learned is; you take it like you find it, leave it as it is, and change it in between.
Bill Cayton: Don King is very good evidence for the proposition that you can't keep a bad man down in boxing.
Don King: I ain't no angel, but I ain't as bad as some people make me out to be.
Craig Hamilton: The way Don King does business might not be truth; it might not be justice; but it sure is the American way.
Don King: I want to do a billion-dollar event and then I'll quit.
Lamon Brewster: Don King would make a great television or radio talk-show host.
Don King: I just love talking. You have to understand; bullshit helps flowers grow.
Ferdie Pacheco: Once you meet Don King, you will not forget him.
Don King: If you can count how much money you have, you ain't got enough.
Lou DiBella: Times have changed, and Don might have slipped a bit. But at his best, nobody was better than Don at what he did. And I'll tell you something else. Don can still go into a room and outlast anyone in a negotiation.
Don King: I can't be bought; I can't be bribed; I can't be coerced; I can't be intimidated. I stand ever ready to right any wrong and help any right. I deal with what I feel is right for the betterment of this great nation of ours and all mankind.
Jay Larkin: Don King can bullshit a lot of people, but he can't bullshit God. He's 74 years old, and the clocks ticks for him the same way it ticks for everyone else.
Don King [on turning 75]: I'm not there yet; but when I am, I'll be happy. I love what I do. I love the life I live, and I live the life I love. On August 20th, I'll say to myself, "I made it this far, thank God."
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com