By Thomas Hauser
Now that Don King is promoting Bernard Hopkins, they constitute boxing's most quotable couple. Neither of them has ever lost a press conference. Give either one a microphone, and a luncheon turns into a dinner. Herewith, a sampling of their thoughts:
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?
Bernard Hopkins: I always had leadership qualities. Fifth grade, sixth grade; if someone was messing with another kid, he'd come to me for protection. It wasn't free. Maybe it was just a peanut butter sandwich with bananas, which was my favorite sandwich, but I always charged something.
Don King: In the numbers business, you don't have the luxury of an office with file clerks and telephone answerers. You have to do most of it out of your head, always be on the run, and still come out with a profit. I had to establish liaisons, same as I do now in boxing. I started in numbers when I was nineteen years old and I went to the top. They called me Kingpin and The Czar and Donald "The Kid" King. I was good.
Bernard Hopkins (on being sentenced to a term of up to eighteen years in prison at age seventeen): I don't blame the judge. I'm not blaming anyone but Bernard Hopkins for putting myself and my family in that situation. Maybe society put the traps there for me to fall into. But if you fall into them, it's your own fault. I'd been in court thirty times in two years. What else was the judge supposed to do?
Don King (on his time in prison): 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.
Bernard Hopkins (on being in prison): Boxing was my best therapy. It saved my sanity. They said I was punch-drunk. They said I was crazy. I used to run the prison yard like a gerbil on a wheel, around and around, around and around, saying over and over to myself, "Someday, I'm gonna get out of here. Someday, I'm gonna be a champion."
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. I wasn't invited to any board meetings. I had to kick down the doors.
Bernard Hopkins: Every time a fighter steps into the ring, he's risking his life for other people's entertainment. If you don't believe me when I say that, go ask Gerald McClellan.
Don King: "Setback" is in my vocabulary now and then. But "failure"? Never!
Bernard Hopkins: In the ring, I'm a dangerous guy. I destroy careers. I ruin other people's dreams. Don King (when asked about Mike Tyson's multimillion-dollar lawsuit against him): I don't comment on Mike Tyson. Don't have to. Even Ray Charles can see what's happening.
Bernard Hopkins: Boxing is war. Boxing is serious. It ain't no joke; it ain't no show. You have to think violent. Don't cry and complain to the referee, "Bernard is hurting me." We're not in church; we're fighting. If you want to not get a bruise, then go play golf.
Don King: I never met a man I couldn't work with.
Bernard Hopkins: In the ring, all fights are grudge matches.
Don King: I ain't asking people to love me; just respect me.
Bernard Hopkins: The business of boxing makes you want to take a shower every time you deal with it.
Don King: You have to understand; bullshit helps flowers grow.
Bernard Hopkins: Losing is part of life. Sometimes you have to lose to get educated. But that should never become an excuse for not doing your best.
Don King: (explaining why he won't tell Evander Holyfield to retire): The last guy I told to retire was Roberto Duran. I felt about Duran the same way some people feel about Evander today. Duran lost in Detroit to a club fighter named Kirkland Laing. So I invited Roberto to my apartment in New York and told him I loved him and that he had to retire. And what Roberto did then was, he went over to my archrival Bob Arum and beat Davey Moore to win the WBA title and he beat Iran Barkley and he almost beat Marvin Hagler. And then George Foreman comes back at age forty-six and wins the heavyweight title. So I learned my lesson about telling fighters when they should retire.
Bernard Hopkins: The reason Roy Jones Jr. doesn't want to fight me is because I remind him too much of his father when his father used to kick his ass and throw him into the pool and make him swim. And he's also having flashbacks to when his dog got shot by his father when it bit his sister. I've come to the decision now that Roy Jones, Jr. is scared of Bernard Hopkins.
Don King: (on the ubiquitous "black boxes" that are cutting into pay-per-view sales): No matter how good you are at securing and protecting your signal, there will always be people who steal it. It's like with a bank. No matter how strong your vault is, there will always be people who break in. And you have to admire the rogues. But I will say; the black boxes are a problem, a big problem.
Bernard Hopkins (with more on Roy Jones, Jr.): Where did a guy that feeds pigs and raises chickens try to become a city hip-hopper with his hat backwards looking like a babbling idiot? What's wrong with the guy? I mean, be proud you're from Pensacola, Florida. If you ain't from New York, don't act like a New Yorker. Now, he's this rough-ryder-hip-hop-DMX Roy Jones Jr. rap-artist gangster. You know what it is? The man wants to be me. Roy's got a complex where he wants to be me.
Don King (on his jewelry): If you've got it, flaunt it. The baubles get attention. You see, the system puts diamonds at the top. 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.
Bernard Hopkins: I respect Roy Jones, even if Roy hasn't given proper respect to me. But I don't know about Roy. Roy plays basketball; Roy feeds his chickens. That's a sign of being punchy, when you follow animals around like a big flood is coming.
Don King: If I could go back in time and have dinner with one person; let me think. There's Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Caesar, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, Winston Churchill. I think that Frederick Douglas would be my first choice.
Bernard Hopkins: I've got one of the best chins in boxing. I don't want to prove that to you, but it's true.
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.
Bernard Hopkins: If I don't have my spirit, what good is money?
Don King: I love what I do. I love the life I live, and I live the life I love.