Let me tell it like it is!
For as long as I or anyone else can remember, editors and chiefs have been chasing me around the globe, begging me to put my pen and story to paper. One said, “Don, we’ll do this.” Another said, “Don, we’ll do that.” “This will be worth millions,” said a third. “This will be bigger than the Fourth of July,” said the fourth. “Don King,” pleaded the fifth. So after all that I was really left with no choice but to break down and take a few minutes from my busy schedule to finally get in the last word edgewise for posterity in perpetuity forever.
Nobody in the whole wide world but yours truly knows the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the true Don King but me. It’s no mystery that whispers, slights, slanders, defamation, insults and insinnuendo have hounded me throughout my career. And even though I’ve fended off attacks by some of the most storied institutions on the planet, I have not only survived, I have thrived and flourished. Yet whenever I point out that as a black man I received different treatment than a white man would under similar circumstances, it’s like casting before pearls and swine. I’m the first to admit it. I’m no saint. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, et cetera and all that jazz. Don King cops to his mistakes. But even though I used to be a sinner I confessed to my sins and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ forgave me my trespasses as I trespassed against Him.
Only in America! Only in America!
Journalists, reporters, muckrakers, moonwalkers, some of the best mudslingers this side of paradise have called me every dirty name in the book. But the Don King they write about isn’t the real Don King. That Don King is a product of their overheated Ivy League imaginations! These writers think they’re performing some kind of service for polite society, but they’re not, they don’t, they aren’t, they can’t, because they don’t know Don King, they are not Don King, they have never been Don King for a single solitary day of their lives.
That’s why I’m taking the time to dictate this story of my life. Someone has to set the record on the straight and narrow, and that someone, in all due modesty, is me.
I’m not going to whitewash my past. What’s done is done. C’est la vie. Que sera sera. There’s no turning back the hands of the clock of time. But my most fervorant hope is that everyone understands how hard it was for a black man forced to eat Jim Crow to create something meaningful in a merciless galaxy. If I could I would be the first man in line to right some of my own worst past wrongs. If I had it to do it all over again, there are things I would definitely do different. But as God is my witness, I have mellowed with time, I have aged like fine wine, I have learned from the errors of my way.
Ever since my dear departed mother and father Hattie and Clarence King first helped me see the light of day in Cleveland, Ohio, my life has been an adventure, at times a misadventure, of epic Shakespearean proportions. From the outside looking in it looks like I traveled from the guttermost to the uttermost in record time, but it just ain’t so. I had to fight from day one, day after day, day and night, night and day, and it wasn’t always easy. It also wasn’t always pretty. But that a lowly former numbers runner from mean ghetto streets could ascend to the tower of power is what this great nation of ours is all about. I know that I have sinned and I have been sinned against and my life has been a marvel and sometimes a mess, but I’m free, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last! I’m also alive and well and still kicking.
Only in America! Only in America!
Due to circumstances beyond my control, due to the fickle finger of fate, but thanks mostly to my the tenacity of my breath and ambition, I was blessed enough, and wild and crazy enough, to become the greatest boxing promoter in history. Still, when I think about it, a part of me feels that I have been called and chosen from the least of men, from the downtrodden, from the lowest rung of society’s ladder. But because of my huge success I’m always trying to think of ways to inspire people to come together. I want to be a kind of catalyst because I see the senselessness and waste and degradation of wholesale and retail prejudice – where people cast aspersions against this group, because it doesn’t speak the same language, wear the same clothes, listen to the same kind of music, honor the same kind of customs, or have the same kind of hair, or that group, because it doesn’t have the same pigmentation or color of skin.
Whenever I encounter black kids on my travels around the globe, I always sit ‘em down and tell them the truth as I see it as I tell it like it is: Don’t look for sweet potato pie in the sky when you die, if might be too late by then, get something sound on the ground while you’re still around. In this society, your blackness is a shortcoming and you better be able to deal with it, because it’s not going anywhere, it’s not going away, black’s not leaving town, so sooner or later you’re going to run into prejudice, discrimination, segregation, race hatred and apartheid American-style. But instead of getting bitter, angry, mad and pissed enough to start blowing away steam, I say to them: Listen to me. Get smart. Get an education. Don’t crack open a safe! Chill. Crack open a book! If you learn you will earn. Everything is up to you. I did it – and you can too.
Prejudice has always been on a lot of people, not only us poor blacks. Look at the Jews, for example, so no one can holler and twist and shout about having an exclusively on slavery. The Jews were enslaved for 2000 years and it was tough. Think about it. Exodus. Circumcision. Shoah. Matzoh. Chutzpah. And they’ve never forgotten that. What I want to do is establish a black Seder where we can ask questions like the Jews ask questions (Why is this skin color different from all other skin colors?) and get the answers and say, Yes, we used to be slaves, but we’re not going to let this happen to us ever again, never again, we’re not going to take it any more or lying down, and search for the ways and means to prevent that from repeating.
It’s our responsibility to give black kids something that they can hang their hats onto that has been proven a winner, to let them know that they can make it in America. Now I’m aware that many blacks have a defeatist attitude when it comes to success. They say no matter, no matter what, no matter how hard I work, no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I ain’t going to be able to make it because the white man is gonna keep me down. Well, my brothers and my sisters, nothing could be further than the truth. Whenever I hear that attitude of defeatism, I go to work even harder. I never let that touch me, because I know you ain’t going to make it if your heart is filled with hate for your fellow man. Kahil Gibran says hate is a dead thing and I would not become a tomb. I want to be alive and evolving and helping to bring about that much-needed change in our great country. I may not be able to reach the poor, bigoted, intolerant and ignorant peoples of America, but what I can do is to become a shining example for blacks everywhere on the face of the earth, at least from a business perspective. The Lord above is directing my path, in spite of what they said and tried to do to me.
Against all odds I have persevered. I am a true attestation to the American dream of upward mobility, a black Horatio Alger. I wasn’t invited to any board meetings. I had to kick down the door to get into those boring meetings! But it’s like I always say: I’m with the masses, not the classes. That still holds true. I’m living proof that you don’t have to go to Harvard or Yale or Princeton or Dartmouth or Cornell West in order to do something righteous in and for America. I recognize what my limitations are in the system, but there’s no shackle put upon you if you can learn and progress of your own free will. No one can ever steal what’s in your mind. By getting smart you can circumvent the situation and create a new aura. I’m a flag waver, it’s true, and a lot of people think I’m a flag waver for ulterior motives, but it isn’t about that. It’s about this country, land that I love, with its founding fathers and founding principles.
The real secret of what I do and the key to my success is that I’m always promoting America. There’s only been three great promoters in the last century. P.T. Barnum, Mike Todd and me, and I got the best hair. My hair wasn’t always like this. Believe it or not, my hair is all au natural. I used to have short hair when I got out of prison. I had normal hair in 1973. It used to be kinky, curly, nappy, just like any other brother’s hair. But not anymore. I don’t use no chemicals or mousse on my hair. It just goes and grows straight up all on its own. I remember the night my wife Henrietta began poking and jabbing me awake, because my head was rumbling, and my hair, it was just like popping out! Each and every single strand was going ping! ping! ping! All them curls was straightening out and shooting straight up at the sky. Henrietta couldn’t believe what was happening, so she woke me and said, “Get up and look at yourself in the mirror.” And that’s the first time I saw it: my hair, 360 degrees of light, a burning bush basted in righteous justice.
Thank you Jesus! Only in America!
I got it made, Jack. I’m an international figure, a citizen of the world. Doesn’t matter where I go, you’ll always hear me saying Only in America! Only in America! – because I love my country. For no matter how many indignities and how much suffering black people have undergone in our nation, due mostly to age-old laws that were established before my inception, the fact of the matter is that this is still the greatest place on earth. But I know America is not perfect. So my mission is to do what I can to make my nation whole, and I want to make my nation right. I think my nation needs a lot of treatment, but you gotta understand that I love my country and want to try to save the patient from life-support surgery. I don’t want to be one of those who walks behind the casket saying, If America had only done this or America had only done that, we wouldn’t need to be burying her. I want to diagnose the problem and prescribe treatment to prevent America from dying. We all know what America should be. But instead of sitting back and crying about it, I’m gonna try to make it happen by working hard, extolling this country, doing what I do best, and making America live up to its doctrine. We gotta join together and fight injustice. We gotta fight for our rights.
How many professions do you know of where a black businessman – I said businessman, not athlete or rock singer or rapper – can come in and without a college education make one hundred or two hundred thousand dollars or more in a single night? How many black general managers are there in major league baseball or in the NFL or NBA or NHL or in the other sports? Not too many. So if the fighter asks me, I sign him up, no questions asked. They’ve been coming to me all along because they know I can perform. White men have been doing it all the time, but when a [n-word] starts doing it all hell breaks loose and the next thing you know they call out the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, the ATF, the INS and the IRT. Why can’t you look at it the way it really is? They used to think nothing of barging into my life and harassing me for hours on end. But I didn’t send for them. I didn’t coerce, intimidate, bribe or dare them to come and try to nail Don King. I didn’t put no gun to their head. They came of their own free will because they knew I was the best boxing promoter in the world. They came to victimize me because I was black. I used to be victimized because of the color of my skin, but at least I was a victim who was well briefed and who understood what the situation was.
I learned many years ago when I read William Shakespeare – check him out, he was some bad dude – that “sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” The government once treated me badly. The press once treated me badly. A lot of people once treated me badly. But I always found the jewel in adversity. The jewel is being able to understand the other man’s perspective. If I was raised in a society where I was told that a different race of people were of no account and were lazy and shiftless, with that being instilled in me all through my life, I’d probably feel the same way as many reporters I meet. So I try to teach white people about black people, because I know as much about white people as I know about black people. I’ve got a PhD in Caucasianism from the School of Hard Knocks, so I can summa cum laud myself with a straight flush. But whites don’t know about us. Not even a little bit. And it’s a shortcoming for whites not to know about us, because we do exist, and you would be proud to learn about us, my white brothers, because we know all about you. Throughout the life of black people – even though they’ve been enslaved, tormented, humiliated, tortured and prosecuted – they’ve always taken care of the babies of the white master and his wife. You’ve never met another race of people like black people. During the Civil War of this great nation, there actually were slaves fighting for their enslavement, as well as those who were fighting for freedom. Now, you know it’s incongruous that you would fight to be enslaved, but in many cases the love between the master’s family and the slave far exceeded what was rational under the circumstances. What can I say?
Only in America!
Life within the law is where the real villains are. I didn’t invent the rules, but I played within and without the rules, and I’ve been successful at both games. There’s nothing wrong with options. Options are everywhere, in movies, in sports, in life itself. Options is not a dirty word. My morals are no different from those of any other CEO, any other corporate chief executive officer. I’m a promoter in business to make money. All I’m doing is working in the tradition of the United States of America. It goes without saying that the nefarious Bob Arum and his ilk spent years trying to turn the public’s other cheek against me. And what about this nonsense I used to hear about me and my son? What about Lou Duva and his son? Lou Duva trains and manages fighters. His son Dan used to promote them. And he’s got another son and daughter and I don’t know who else in his business empire. But with the white populace controlling the media, they used to celebrate Lou Duva. He had “the first family of boxing” label, the whole family working together. Me, I just got Carl.
People didn’t used to like me for the same reason they didn’t used to like Muhammad Ali. We were the wrong kind of [n-word]. Well I got tired of everyone making me out to be the wrong kind of [n-word], like I couldn’t do anything right on my own, like I couldn’t get anything done on my own without breaking the law. I always had to go out and fight because I am a black man. So let me give you an education in Kingism 101. In business, you have supply and demand. Where there is no demand you have to create demand and then you have to feed to the demand you created by filibustering a vacuum between supplier and demander. Now you’ve got something to sell, something with which to make things happen. And that’s what I love most about what I do. While I aspire to the pearly gates of heaven, I’m making it work for me here on terra firma. But I always transcend earthly bounds. Even now, after all these years, whenever I look into the mirror, I never cease to amaze myself. And I say this humbly. I am ready to accept the limits of what I can do, but every time I feel that way – boom! God touches me – and I do something even more fantastic than whatever fabulous thing it was which I did preceded it.
I’ve broken every record known to man in the fine art of promoting boxing. I was the first promoter to guarantee $1,000,000 paydays to non-heavyweights when featherweights Salvador Sanchez and Wilfredo Gomez fought for the championship. More than over 100 boxers have earned a $1,000,000 or more under my stewardhood. In 1993 I brought Julio Cesar Chavez back to Mexico City and drew a record 136,274 fans to Azteca Stadium. I had the first $1,000,000 fight sold to TV, the first billion people audience for one of my spectaculars. The first Tyson-Holyfield fight in 1996 was seen in 100 countries by over 2 billion people. Holyfield-Tyson II from 1997 brought in 1,900,000 home buys. The “Bite of the Century” was the most watched one-day event in sports history. I’ve done hundreds of world title fights, and no one has ever touched that, not even close, not anyone from Tex Ricard to Golden Boy combined. I found an opportunity to do these things and in its way it almost makes me a miracle worker.
The thing to recognize about me is my business acumen. My forte is economics. Promotion is my sideline. But it’s only through what I call the last vestige of free enterprise, which is boxing, than an ex-numbers banker and an ex-convict like myself fell upon a golden opportunity. Because society didn’t want to get in on boxing. They never did. They look at boxing and decided that it was infiltrated with racketeers. So because it’s so unorganized, it allowed a guy like me to come in and clean up the sport. Boxing is not corporate. One can have crazy hair and clothes and manners in boxing and still be a big winner. The greatest thing for someone like me is to be able to think and put business deals together without being a graduate of a school of higher learning. But I’ve had to deal with those kinds of people. To do so, you have to create a sound, constructive business deal, which means recoupment to investment and bottom-line profit in order to stay in business. On top of all that, I then had to be able to ensure the success of the promotions by capturing the imagination and the attention of the people who might otherwise not be very interested in boxing. That goes for the public and the media execs. Because you can’t always believe anything anybody tells you in boxing. And people know that. The business is predicated on lies, untruths, deceptions and delusions. You are dealing with people who very rarely tell the truth and wouldn’t know the truth if they tripped over it at a press conference.
I never needed to promote myself. That came from doing my job. Many people don’t really understand. They say “Don, you have done the most phenomenal job of promoting yourself of anyone I’ve known.” They say I’m more well known than most of my fighters. The only reason for that is that I work harder at my job. What an amazing life I’ve had. Once I was poor and hungry. Now I got money to spend but no time to eat. But it ain’t never been about me. It’s always been about the attractions. By promoting these guys, I established myself as the one in this game who was reliable, who was dependable, who was going to be there in the long run, who could deliver the goods. So I couldn’t help but promote myself, because I became the staying factor, the fly in the ointment, the deus in the machina. And I worked at it so good, so assiduously, so dedicatedly, that I became an entity unto my own self. I work hard at my job. I work hard at my trade. I work hard for my money. But I never forget that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have all those great champs behind me. I’ve always been a people person. People are my most important asset. Faith in the Supreme Being, trust, credibility and performance are the things that have brought me to the top.
Only in America! Only in America!
I have given a lot of serious thought and a lot of serious money to a lot of serious causes over the years. The Don King Foundation, named after yours truly, has made a habit and tradition of helping those in need. The NAACP, Trans-Africa, United Negro College Fund, Anti-Apartheid Association, Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation for Social Change, Simon Wiesenthal Center, President’s Council on Physical Fitness, National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Our Children’s Foundation, Wheelchair Charities, and the National Coalition of Title 1/Parents 1 are just a few recipients of my largesse. Because it’s like they always say in the ghetto: Look black, live white, think green. If you can count your money, you ain’t got none. And when the NAACP awarded me their highest honor in 1997, it was the proud culmination of the many honors it has been my pride and honor to accept. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but if I don’t, who will? Blow, Gabriel, blow! Take it from the top! I’ve got more awards than Osama bin Laden has enemies. Black Achievement Award from the Black United Fund. Man of the Year for the Brotherhood Crusade. The Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. Even the New York Times has named me as among the top-ten African Americans who have shaped this country during the last century. You want awards? You’re looking at him.
I’m not almost famous. I’m already famous! I was recently roasted by the Friars Club, a Who’s Who of anybody who’s ever been somebody, at the New York Hilton by my good friend Donald Trump. I’m even in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, standing right across from Richard Nixon. I’m a legend in my own time, a legend in my own mind, I’m the most legendary legend in the history of legends. So if anyone ever deserved awards it was and should and will continue to be me. I’m Don King the American Dream come true from sea to shining sea. I’m Don King coming in through the bathroom window. I’m Boxing, I’m Sports, I’m Showbiz, I’m Finance, I’m Politics, I am Don King. I was a gangsta rapper when 50 Cent was in diapers. Only in America! And it’s like I always say, I love my country, but in reading about black history, I am left with the question of why, just because of color, a whole race of people could be subjugated and subordinated to become sniveling idiots and imbeciles and beasts of burden treated without any compassion or remorse. How do you justify this? What is the reason? What blasphemy, what traitorous deed did we do to deserve this? I understand that freedom is a very cherished and precious commodity, but in all cases there remains one factor it is impossible to ignore: economic independence. Every ethnic group has to attain economic independence to be a participant in the power-sharing process. We should work together for the betterment of the nation and the community. Because the United States is the greatest community in the world. You’ve got to learn how to make it work for you like I made it work for me. If you fight for a country, you can claim the country for your own. We must make the harmony of life work as we do in music. George Gershwin could not write Rhapsody in Blue without the white keys.
When I rewind the tapes entangling my fertile imagination I see my right and proper place in the pantheon of black genius. I gladly take my seat of honor on the dais with black history’s greatest stars. Martin and Malcolm, naturally, stand beside me and guide me through the night with the light from above. Joining them are my brothers Nelson Mandela, Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglass. I’ve tried to emulate Douglass. He fought slavery and extolled America. Who else we got? My sister souljahs Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth and Moms Mabley. George Washington Carver, Hank Aaron and Sidney Poitier. (They call me Mister King!) Smokey, Jackie and Sugar Ray Robinson. The Twin Towers Wilt the Stilt and Shaq. What about Paul Robson? (Only in America he just keeps rolling along!) James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. (I loved her book “The Colored People.”) Lady Day Billie Holiday (Strange Fruit!) and the High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone (Mississippi Goddamn!). Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Al Green and Rev. Ike. Jesse Owens, Jesse Jackson and Jesse James. Tupac and Biggie. R.I.P. Dubois. W.E.B. The Nicholas, Chambers, Mills, Arthel and the Neville Brothers. James Brown, Jim Brown, John Brown, Bobby Brown and Brown vs. Board of Ed. Black Panthers Party Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver. (Hot Buttered Soul on Ice!) Redd Foxxy ladies Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge and Hail! Halle Berry. Oprah and Aretha. Tyson and Dyson. Chris Rock and Harry Belafonte. (Hey, Mr. Tallyman, tally my bonanzas!) Big Daddy Kane, Big Daddy Bowe and Big Mama Thornton. Lennox Lewis, Ray Lewis, Joe Louis and Louis “Satchmofo” Armstrong. Dr. Dre and Dr. J. Ella and LL Cool J. Aaron and Richard Pryor. Savion and Danny Glover. Bessie and Will Smith. Ethel and Muddy Waters. Gladys and Suge Knight. Barbara and Michael Jordan. Larry Holmes and Eleanor Holmes Norton. John Sally and Sally Hemings. bell hooks and Bell Curve. Condoleezza and Rice-A-Roni the San Francisco treat. (Yo!) Judge Thurgood Marshall, Judge Clarence Thomas and Judge Joe Brown. (Order in the court!) Lil’ Kim, Lil Green, Little Eva, Little Anthony, Little Stevie Wonder, Little Jimmy Scott and Little Richard. (A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop-a-lop-bam-boo!)
Amazing grace! How sweet it is! Only in America!
All my black brother and sisters fighting the good fight for equality under law share a freedom gene that gets passed from generation to generation. Although our beginnings were harsh in the extreme, burdened by poverty, racism, discrimination, the color line, the color bar and the color of our skin, we sang “We Shall Overcome” and we overcame and thanks to Jesus they saw the light. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! My truth is marching on! Someday the time and space will come when I will give up the ghost and descend back to earth – Gibraltar may tumble – and my star will cascade precipitously, calamitously, and with a loud clatter, and there will be no more Don King. When I breathe my last breath, when there is silence where once there was noise, when I am dead and gone and facing reincarnation and not reincarceration, let it be said that Don King may have struggled with his demons, but he always wanted what was best for his people. After they hoist me up in my golden casket and ease me into mother earth, after the minister says a little prayer for me guaranteeing safe passage, after my loved ones toss a handful of dirt on my final impulse purchase, let it be written in the transcription on my marble tombstone slab: He worked for the day when all people would be clothed in dignity.
Only in America!
(Excerpt from unpublished manuscript titled “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Don King”)
Hauser, Thomas. The Black Lights (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1986).
Mailer, Norman. The Fight (Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1975).
McRae, Donald. Dark Trade (Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh, 1996).
Newfield, Jack. Only In America (William Morrow & Company, New York, 1995).
Playboy Magazine, May 1988, “Don King Interview.”
CNN In the Crossfire, December 6, 2002, “Don King sounds off on boxing.”
CNN In the Crossfire, January 6, 2003, “Don King sounds off on politics.”