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When Don King talks, it’s tough not to listen

The legendary boxing promoter touches on everything from politics to his appreciation for UNLV basketball

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Steve Marcus

Boxing promoter Don King responds to a question during an exclusive interview in his Treasure Island penthouse Thursday, April 11, 2013.

Q&A With Don King

Boxing promoter Don King poses for a photo after an exclusive interview in his Treasure Island penthouse Thursday, April 11, 2013. Launch slideshow »

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Don King’s office last week was the 36th floor penthouse at Treasure Island. He felt right at home — it’s Las Vegas, after all.

This is the fighting capital of the world thanks largely to King, who promoted 10 of the top 25 highest-grossing live gates in Nevada history while working with such greats as Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard and Julio Cesar Chavez.

But Vegas isn’t just a place where King does business. He owns two condos here and has made a long list of friends, including some he considers his closest allies.

Now, at 81, most of the fights he promotes are no longer the marquee ones on Saturday nights that bring millions to the local economy.

Last week, he promoted a group of up-and-coming boxers competing in the ballroom at Treasure Island. They are a long shot to make a splash in boxing. But King’s catchphrase is, “Only in America,” and he expresses confidence that a star could emerge from the small promotion.

Whether that confidence is genuine or pure salesmanship is open to interpretation. But what’s indisputable is that King’s never at a loss for words, and that was definitely the case during a recent interview.

He talked about politics, the history of blacks in America, movies and everything in between. Some questions he took an indirect route in answering, while others he responded to for minutes without giving a clear answer.

Given an audience, King isn’t bashful about presenting the world according to Don. Here are some of King's thoughts from the interview, edited for brevity.

•••

On Bob Arum, his longtime adversary:

I call him Lonesome Bob. I would never know how good I was if I didn’t have Bob Arum. Bob Arum is white, Jewish; He was working for prosecutor’s office. I’m black, an ex-convict, ex-number runner. Who would be most likely to succeed? It would be Bob 100-1. Yet I beat Bob on everything we ever done, with love.

•••

On politics:

My name is in there for getting Jack Johnson pardoned. I love Sen. Harry Reid. Sen. Harry Reid is a great leader. He is a guy who comes from a humble beginning. Him and his family work very, very hard and they work for the betterment for the state of Nevada. He cares for the people. Sen. Reid is one of my No. 1 stars.

•••

On getting through life:

Everything you do, you have to have a hero. What has happened is we have become a victim of our own success. Fighting and everything I have done has been a political statement throughout my career. Boxing is life. It is the closest thing to life you can get. It is man-to-man. You can’t call a time out or get a substitute. If you run out of gas, there is no petrol station around. Your problem is right before you and you have to deal with it. That is life.

•••

On Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV basketball:

I love him (Jerry Tarkanian) I think he is a wonderful guy. He revolutionized basketball here in Las Vegas at UNLV. He brought in a new mode of playing. He aroused the spirit of his players and they came together in unity. Many people didn’t like the way it was; you always are going to have the pros and the cons. The more you go up the pole, the more exposed you are. Tark is just a great guy. He brought an aura. He was genuinely a great coach and a good guy. UNLV became a household word. He gave opportunities to guys who never got opportunity. He reached back at touched the community and brought community unity. He is in hall of fame now. He should have been in earlier. All is well that ends well.

•••

On the UFC:

I like Dana (White) and Lorenzo (Fertitta). Lorenzo is really my friend from when he was on the boxing commission. Dana White, everyone gets mad at him. They want to criminalise him, but he is an innovative and imaginative young man.

•••

On boxing and race:

Each time you knock a barrier down, it gives you another option. Power is a strong thing. You have to understand when I signed these two athletes, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, everybody in the world was trying to get them. ... Anyone want to see this great fight? I got it, but being black, couldn’t go nowhere. If you are white, at least you can get through the portals to fight the battle. If you are black, you can’t get through the portals to the arena. I had to fight the barrier. I had to go around the world because I didn’t give in.

Click to enlarge photo

Former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson performs in Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth - Live on Stage" at the MGM Grand Friday, April 13, 2012.

•••

On Mike Tyson:

I haven’t had a chance to see "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth", but I talked to Mike yesterday. In fact, they called me yesterday and I invited him to the fight here at the Treasure Island. ...It is human nature. People go to (matches) to see the explosive punches. That is the excitement of the game. Tyson exemplified that. That quality is not in longevity (of a fight). It is in the explosive energy.

•••

On the good that comes from his profession:

It is about entertaining the people and making the people most important. It is not about me promoting a big boxing event. It is about me promoting an event that brings people together and people finding out they have a common cause. If you cut me, I bleed red. We both put our pants on one leg at a time.

•••

On old conflicts:

It is the harm that is done in repeating the same things (such as conflicts with fighters) like it is new, giving you a chance to debate and discuss. Then, everyone will challenge me and I will have to answer the questions and back it up.

•••

Ain’t nothing good about the good ol' days except they are gone. ... Man has already did his job. I have been born, I have been shot. I have been stabbed. I put it all out there. Until they get ready for me to go (to heaven), I can open doors and do a lot for (others). I can do a lot for people.

Click to enlarge photo

Retired boxer Julio Cesar Chavez urges on his son Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. as he fights against Sergio Martinez during their title fight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada Sept. 15, 2012.

•••

On Julio Cesar Chavez:

I love Julio Cesar Chavez. He had a whole country following him. Chavez brought a nation here and had the nation when he went home. The president of the country would come to our workouts. When you would see Chavez (fight), he would always perform and was valiant, and always had the infectious smile. I remember he always, always stood up for Mexico, and of course, being the winner he was.

•••

On Muhammad Ali:

You either hated Ali or loved Ali, but you had both (sets of fans) coming to see him. One coming to see him get whipped, and one coming to idolize him and raise him up.

•••

On his career:

My career is one of people involvement. I’m a promoter of the people, by the people, for the people. My magic lies, my people ties, this is what I want to do. I’m in it to win, I cant give in, I can’t give up and I cant quit. Victory is mine. Working together works.

•••

On his life philosophy:

You can’t rule the world, but what you can do is win the world with love and understanding.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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