Back in 1989, I happened to be strolling the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica with my friend and fellow broadcaster Bob Costas. We ran into a street performer who might have been homeless and who was rhyming and making jokes. I enjoyed the show, and Bob handed him $5.
The man looked at him. "Yo! Yo! Yo! Bob! Bob! Bob Costa! Come on, Bob! You can do a whole lot better than that!"
Bob handed the man another $20, despite the mispronunciation of his name. The man spit out a few more rhymes, and then he turned suddenly toward me. "And what about you over there? You be on there analyzing some shit!"
We doubled over in laughter, and I handed over another $20. That made $45 total. Big payday. Before we walked away, I said to that man, "If you know who I am, there's no way you're homeless. You're watching way too much television."
The man started laughing. We parted company. "There's the title of your book, my friend," Costas said. "You be on there analyzing some shit."
This is that shit.
MUCH MORE THAN THE BITE
On the night before he bit off a chunk of another man's ear, Mike Tyson went to see Don King. More specifically, he went to see Don King about a check. This was June 27, 1997, a Friday, less than twenty-four hours before what's now known as the Bite Fight. That night changed so much, looking back at the events that had transpired, for boxing and its biggest superstar, and even me.
I was in King's small temporary office at the MGM Grand as he scribbled out all those zeros, writing out a check for $30 million, then penning his signature at the bottom. It was a staggering amount of money for one night's work, then or now. But Tyson was worth every penny that King was set to pay him. He was something else: the most exciting, well-known, and thunderous athlete on the planet. On any given Saturday inside a boxing ring, he was liable to hit someone harder than you've ever seen a man hit another person. But he was just as likely to spectacularly combust. King knew all this as he tossed the check in my direction. "You imagine?" he said. "I'm paying him $30 million before he fights the fight!"
King then began howling with laughter and shaking his head. "I know I say it all the time," King boomed. "But goddamn, only in America!"
He wasn't wrong. Tyson was a decidedly American creation, a world- wide phenomenon whose origin story has transformed over the years into something closer to myth: raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn; molested as a child; he ran with convicts and drug dealers, committed crimes, landed in a juvenile detention center; he was saved by boxing and then nearly destroyed by it. At this point in his career, he had only lost twice: to James "Buster" Douglas in an epic 1990 upset and the first time he faced Evander Holyfield, who won their initial bout by technical knockout in 1996. Tyson complained afterward that Holyfield had leaned on and head-butted him, turning the fight into more of a brawl. This mind-set would become important in the rematch, a bout—and a bite—that would come to help define careers. His and mine.
I saw it all, including the night when Don King handed Tyson that $30 million check. "I'll see you tomorrow night," King said. "Now, just don't get into any trouble tonight, my brother. Just keep it calm."
"No problem," he responded, as the three of us went out back by MGM's Grand Garden Arena, where the boxer had parked his brand-new Lamborghini in the loading dock. Back in those days, there were stanchions to protect the vehicles that had to be removed and replaced before and after the cars were parked. Well, Tyson never saw the stanchion that had been put up behind his car. He backed right into it. He probably did $1,000 worth of damage, maybe less, to a $350,000 car.
He leapt from the car, and with a fastball like Sandy Koufax, he threw the keys as hard as he could to the security guard, who weighed like four hundred pounds. "Take this fucking car, get this fucking car away from me!"
"OK, Mr. Tyson," the man said. "I'll put it in the valet."
Tyson stared back menacingly. "What didn't you fuckin' understand?" he yelled back. "I said get it away from me. Take this car. It's bad luck."
King interjected himself at that point, as he often did when it came to Tyson. "Ay, brother, my man is giving you this car," he said in that cackling Don King voice. "Take it, have a good time, good luck to you."