HB, Don King and Calvin Woodland
Don King Day in DC
Inside Sports studio / L-R Sugar Ray Leonard–HB–Don King–Larry Holmes–
Don King & Crew / L-R Nat Williams, Cora Barry, Don King, Dave Jacobs and HB
I remember it was in Cleveland against almost everyone’s wishes including Wallace Muhammad (Nation of Islam) begging Ali not to open the door and give Don King his first opportunity to be a black promoter. But it was popular R & B singer Lloyd Price who introduced King and convinced Ali to do the right thing and give a brother a break.
Lloyd would be one of the first King would kick to the curve when success came knocking. He thanked Ali the same way he did most of the fighters he promoted, he took their money (Ali 1.5 million). When Ali threatened to take King to court and sue him, King told the champ “I will have you in court for years and really break you.” Ali settled for $50,000. King thought his promoter’s license gave him a license to steal. He would go on to create a boxing empire unmatched in the history of boxing but not without controversy. There were many kissing his ring and his ass, I refused to kiss either.
In 1971 I was fresh on the sports talk radio scene. I jumped at the opportunity to ride to Cleveland with the late Washington Star sports writer and columnist J. D. Beathea and Atty. Harry Barnett to see my main man, Muhammad Ali. Harry represented future heavyweight champion, George Foreman. In Cleveland Ali would be fighting an exhibition for a Children’s Hospital. The promoter for this charitable event, Don King. His credentials, a numbers runner and backer who served time in prison for manslaughter.
J. D. would also invite me to have breakfast with him and King the next morning after the fight. He was writing a story on King becoming Black America’s first big time boxing promoter. It was during this breakfast King would say, “Harold stick with me baby we are going places” forty plus years and broken promises later, he is the only one that has gone some place.
We all make mistakes in life but Don King was one of Ali’s biggest. The champ was just trying to network and saw an opportunity to pull another black brother along. But King was one of those brothers, “You could take out of the ghetto but you could not take the ghetto out him.” Don King is not comfortable in his own skin unless he is trying to scam or use someone. The proof is in the pudding (the fighters) and I was an eye witness.
Mike Tyson described King best when he said, “Don King is a ruthless wretched, slimy, reptilian Mother F—–. This is supposed to be my black brother’ right? He’s just a bad man, a really bad man. He would kill his mother for a dollar. He’s deplorable he doesn’t know how to love anybody but himself.”
Tyson told some friends, “I would kill that black son of a bitch if I thought I could get away with it.”
When Ali gave Don King an opportunity to become the country’s first black major boxing promoter in the 70s he didn’t expect business as usual–the plantation and gangster mentality, but that is exactly what he got.
The biggest benefactor in the Muhammad Ali era was Don King. There is little doubt Don King is the greatest boxing promoter of all-time, but he carried a lot of baggage into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Major media was a thorn in King’s side because of his dark and shady criminal past. There was a “Honeymoon” period with the media when he first arrived in New York to sit up shop. But the honeymoon didn’t last long, the sharks in sports media repeatedly wrote and broadcast stories to remind boxing fans that Don had served time for murder and was an unscrupulous numbers backer. This was definitely a media double standard because boxing has always had mob and small time gangster ties. Don King was right at home under the category “Small time gangster.”
I was one of a few in a tiny minority black sports media circle who consistently supported King’s position as a black boxing promoter. It was the American way—second chances. I also thought that Don King’s success would mean my sports media success, I really dialed a wrong number.
Ali’s business manager Gene Kilroy once said, “Harold if you were white you would be a millionaire.” The late Hymie Perlo, Community Relations Director for the NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards said, ‘Harold if you had played the game they would be calling Howard Cosell the white Harold Bell.’
In the meantime, in Washington, DC Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon called and asked me if I would be willing to go on television “Geraldo Live?” The topic, Don King’s role in professional boxing. He said, ‘Harold this is perfect for you, no one in media has been tooting the horn of Don King louder then you.’ He was right.
Wilbon had been a regular on my sports talk show ‘Inside Sports’ and he was familiar with my history with King.
This is the same Michael Wilbon who would often cry the blues to me about George Solomon his sports editor looking over his shoulder and changing his column. He was still writing for the Washington Post and serving as a co-host with the overrated Tony Korheisner on ESPN’s PTI and as a color analyst on NBA Sunday and he had a radio talk show on ESPN. It looks like he was a media success story, but at what cost (a heart attack)? If he allowed George Solomon to change his column at the Washington Post who is to say ESP is not currently writing his script.
I now find it hard to believe anything that Michael writes or says, but what do I know and when did I know it? Ebony Magazine in its December 2009 issue picked him one of “The Power Players” in sports media!!
Wilbon during a Black History Month tribute to Gary Mays
Wilbon was playing both sides of the fence. He knew he could not go on the show and defend King and be a member in good standing with the Washington Post. He could not take a stand against King because he was scared of him and his gangster background. I had a choice of choosing between major media and Don King. I choose King, I had nothing in common with major media and I grew in a community of Don Kings. My mother had her own number book in our housing project.
The man who Don King most resembled in my community was a slick talking street hustler by the name of James Dudley. He was Don King long before Don King.
Mr. James Dudley was the first black inducted into World Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1994 the WWE is now a two billion dollar enterprise
The World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment was born and first open its doors on 14th & W Streets in NW DC in the early 60s. Its home was Turner’s Arena and the Godfather of the neighborhood was James Dudley who ran the arena. The “Under Cover Boss” was the late James Vincent McMahon a small time promoter whose son now owns the WWE. McMahon Sr. hired Mr. Dudley to run the day to day operations of the arena. Mr. Dudley was never late for work he lived directly across the street from the arena. On the weekends it was like a Who’s Who of entertainers and sporting events performing at the arena. The great jazz artist, boxing and wrestling shows held there were the talk of the town and Mr. Dudley was the Godfather of the community and the arena. When I started the Hillcrest Saturday Program in the building in (Hillcrest Children’s Center an affiliate of Children’s Hospital) 1968 he had my back. The building was off limits during the riots and sacred ground on Monday thru Friday for the outpatient residents. Mr. Dudley was the Sheriff on the block and I was his deputy.
In the meantime, once I saw the line-up for the Geraldo show I clearly understood why Wilbon wanted no part of the program. First there was my homeboy and friend by way of New York City, Boxing Publisher and author, Bert Randolph Sugar. And the man who was responsible for the movie “The Life, Lies and Crimes of Don King” New York Times writer Pulitzer Prize winner, Jack Newfield, plus the host Geraldo. Three anti-Don King media personalities, Wilbon had thrown me into “The Lion’s Den.”
Bert and I often shared hotel rooms and he sometimes had the same problem applying for press credentials with King as I did. I remember one title fight my credentials were at ringside and Burt’s were in the nose bleed section of the arena. I traded my credential seat with Bert, but I expected no mercy from him tonight on the subject of Don King.
I knew I was red meat when Rivera introduced the segment with, “Don King is a petty thief and numbers runner who has served time in jail for murder and has stolen money from the likes of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.”
I could not call him a liar because it was all true. I took the hits from Newfield and Sugar but I defended King regardless—it was all about loyalty a word you will never hear King mention in his extensive vocabulary or something you would in the black community today.
My radio and print media commentaries defended Don King despite the lawsuits brought against him in courts all over America for thief from the various fighters he represented. When heavyweight champion Larry Holmes threaten to take Don to court, he called Larry into his office and threaten to do bodily harm to him and his family–case closed.
Ali and Mike had hearts as big as Las Vegas and were very charitable when it came to their money. All you had to do was ask them for it, but Don King decided he would rather steal from them. I think the thing that hurt Mike more then anything else were the guys that he grew up with, his homeboys, Roy Horn and John Holloway were a part of the heist. Roy was on such an ego trip he took his part of the heist from King and tried to become a movie star. I smelled a rat because I would often see Don and John huddled together in dark corners of restaurants.
In the early 70s King invited me to New York to meet with him. We were to meet in his office at 3: 00 pm. I spend three hours waiting for him. The time served me well thanks to his “Girl Friday” Connie Bennett. Connie ran King’s New York office and was an old and trusted friend from his days in Cleveland. During that three hour wait she gave me a 101 Boxing Lesson Plan on how to deal with her boss. The best advice “Don’t ever take any money from him you have not earned.”
When Don finally arrived he took me out for dinner and we were joined by “The Hands of Stone” the legendary Roberto Duran and his interpreter Luis Hernandez. Luis was one of the good guys and a class act in the seedy world of boxing. During dinner I discovered that Duran did speak English it was not fluent but it was sufficient enough for him to be my guest later on Inside Sports.
I stayed with Luis at his home in upstate New York that night it was a little late for me to be heading back to DC. Luis had a son who was an outstanding high school basketball player and I stayed over for a couple of days to watch him play. He scored 27 points in a lost but he lived up to the advanced billing of his proud dad.
My first assignment with Don King, he asked me to use my influence to get Sugar Ray Leonard to sign a promotional contract with him. I knew going in that was “Mission Impossible.” Ray had already signed an agreement with a group of white businessmen recruited by his trainer Janks Morton.
The group was led by an ambulance chasing lawyer by the name of Mike Trainer. He was a softball teammate of Janks.
Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard met for the second time in New Orleans. It rained the whole dam weekend and the only thing I got to see was the fight. I remember trying to get some asleep in Don’s hotel suite in another room when I overheard Don telling Duran’s handlers “Just remind Roberto all he has to do is to be on his feet at the end of the fight and he will still be the champion. The only way he can lose this fight is Ray will have to knock him out.”
This all made sense to me Duran had never been knocked off of his feet in his career. In their first fight in Montreal, Canada Duran manhandled and frustrated Ray and won a unanimous decision. I thought, “There is no way Ray was going to knock Duran out.” I had already gone out on a limb on my radio show ‘Inside Sports’ and I was quoted in the Washington Post that Ray would lose the fight. I thought he was taking the fight too soon after his defeat in Montreal—wrong again.
One of my female listeners on my sports talk show challenged me, that if Ray beat Duran I would walk on the U Street corridor in front of Ben’s Chilli Bowl wearing nothing but a pair of bikini swimming trunks after the fight. I accepted her challenge.
Duran, was a headstrong and proud warrior of the ring. His pride cost him the fight in New Orleans. I was sitting ringside when Duran uttered the now famous “No Mas.” Many of us at the press table could not figure out why the fight had been stopped. When we heard the reason why we still could not believe what we had just heard “No Mas?”
Duran had quit in round eight while defending his titled. I am sure he cost Don King a bundle of cash. All he had to do was stay on his feet and he would have retained his welterweight title. There is still a mystery that still surrounds the fight. The bottom line Sugar Ray outsmarted Duran with his now you see and now you don’t style. Duran could not hit what he could not see and he quit in frustration.
I returned home from New Orleans and donned my bikini bathing suit in front of Ben’s Chilli Bowl on the coldest day of the month (November 30, 1980) and kept my word.
I watched closely how King treated those around him who borrowed money or those who would take money they had not earned. He treated them like hoes with no respect. Some of the things he would say out his mouth to grown men made me cringe. Connie’s advice served me well.
Connie, was loyal to a fault but I guess the price was right. In the 90s the IRS was closing in on King for income tax fraud, she took the fall for him. She served several years in jail for income tax evasion and lived financially happy and wealthy after her release from prison.
I grew up in a housing project in Northeast DC in a single parent home. My mother was the neighborhood bookie, sold bootleg liquor and cut poker games on the weekends to help make ends meet. I watched as the local cops raided our home taking my mom out in handcuffs. I evidently felt some misplaced kinship to Don King.
I remember Mike Tyson fought-Buster Mathis in Philadelphia in 1995 and several members of the media kept complimenting me about a commentary that was written in the boxing program for the fight. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Elmer Smith said to no one in particular, “Harold Bell is the most courageous sports journalist on the planet.” I had no idea what they were talking about and decided to go to the media room to get a program. There in the program was a commentary I had written for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. The commentary spoke to the double standard major media use in judging black folks like Don King titled “Justice & Just Us.” Someone at Don King Productions had decided to publish my commentary in the program without my permission. It was easy to figure out who—Don King.
I encountered King on the elevator and asked him why would he publish my story without my permission? His response was typical of a street hustler “Harold baby, I didn’t know you could write like that—brilliant.” As we parted company he got the last word, I said, “Don, your problem, you think you are smarter then everyone else.” His response, ‘I know.’
Don King took the high road with me while Ali was still active but once Ali retired he acted like I was suddenly a pain in the ass. I would travel to Las Vegas paying my own expenses (airfare) to cover Don King Production fights. Bert Sugar or New Amsterdam Newspaper columnist Howie Evans would share a hotel room with me. My problem would be getting press credentials. Don was usually hiding out on site and his son Carl or some other member of the team would tell me his location. I would walk up on him and challenge him about my credentials. He would then get an attitude claiming he had nothing to do with credential assignments. His press relations office had all white faces running the show with a token go-fer black face on hand.
I will never forget the Larry Holmes and “Bone Crusher” Smith fight in Las Vegas. I stayed in my hotel room because I was denied credentials. I could not locate his hideout. The second Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield fight in Las Vegas. I was assigned a seat in the AUXILIARY section of the arena to watch the fight on close circuit television (low blow). It gets worst, Don promoted a fight card here in DC in my hometown and told the PR man Charlie Brotman to deny me credentials. Brotman later apologized. Thanks to the likes of Don King and Don King wannabes the battle for equal access at media press tables (Boxing, NBA, NFL, MLB, etc) continues to be an on-going battle.
Bernard Hopkins’ savior trainer the late Bowie Fisher. He kicked Bowie to the curb in a money dispute–it never ends.
It really was a low blow when legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins hires white trash like Kelley Swanson to run his press relations office. Bernard and I have had several conversations as it relates to the two faces and the deceit of Don King. He brags about putting Don King out of business (boxing) and turns around and follows his lead. Swanson is a protege of Rock Newman another Don King wannabe. Rock claims Swanson has a great a Head on her shoulders and attributes that for her rapid rise to PR success in the boxing world!
Head Lady Swanson and Rock Newman
Don is one of the best examples, of Sam Greenlee’s best selling book The Spook That Sit by the Door. Unlike Greenlee’s character, King’s goal has always been to keep the brothers out. He has never been Black & Proud, only “Green & Greedy.” He is truly one those brothers that you can take out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of him. My problem, I never kissed his ass or his ring like other media types–it was not my style.
Don King came back to DC in 1995 to promote a boxing show at the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland. I cut him back after the charade in Philadelphia after the Mike Tyson and Buster Mathis fight. I finally reached the conclusion that he was about nothing other then using any and everybody.
I was sitting at ring side talking shop after the conclusion of the card and King called me to join him in the ring. He welcomed me with his signature “shout out” what’s up my man? The next words out of his mouth almost floored me, he said “I owe you and I got your back. Meet me at the Hilton Hotel in downtown DC tomorrow around 11:00 a. m. and lets talk.”
Adrian Davis a local DC boxer and now a successful trainer approaches me as I exit the ring. He wants to know if he could have a word with me and I say why not! The conversation revolves around Don King. He claimed King owed him $10,000 and since I had his ear would I please ask King to pay him. I got my own problems with Don and here comes another brother who wants me to plea his case. I said if the opportunity presented itself I would ask King what was the problem and I did. Don broke it down to me how Adrian had borrowed advance money from him ($10,000) and he took it out of his purse. Many make the mistake of borrowing money from Don and because they don’t see him write it down they think he has forgotten, but nothing could be further from the truth. Remember, he was a numbers runner and backer and they are good at keeping numbers in their head.
When I explained to Adrian Davis what Don had told me, he stopped speaking to me, I am still trying to figure that one out?
Things would go down hill for me and Don after that meeting in Washington, DC. He made promises he never kept after telling me “I owe you my brother.” I chased him in boxing circles for two years trying to make him keep the promises made to me but I was like a dog chasing my tail. My last try, I showed up in Las Vegas at one of his fights and as soon as he spotted he started yelling “Harold Bell don’t nobody owe you anything. I don’t know what your problem is.” I just looked at him and didn’t say a word.
On Sunday after the fight I waited for him in the lobby and as he headed for his limo I stepped in front of him. He was surprise to see me and said, “Harold Bell what’s happening baby, give me those figures for the sponsorship of your show again.” He then called his secretary over to write down the figures that were needed.
Don as is his way hollered “I will be in touch soon, love you my brother.” Three months later I would receive my divorce papers and a Dear John letter from him. The two thousand dollars he mentions in the letter was the money he gave me to give to my wife Hattie as a “House Warming Gift.” We had just moved into our first house (see letter below). Only in America—black America, where a man’s word means absolutely nothing!
Via Federal Express
November 24, 1996
H.B. Sports Promotions and Marketing, Inc.
Re: “Promises Made, Promises Kept”
I received your acerbic letter and I do apologize for my tardiness in fulfilling my promise of sending you a check for eight thousand dollars in addition to the two thousand dollars ($8, 000) I gave you in Washington, D. C.
Enclosed you will find my check in the amount of eight thousand dollars ($8,000) representing the remainder of my commitment to you. This check fulfills my promise to you and ends our beautiful relationship. I deeply regret this, but you are absolutely correct that you should not have to kiss my black ass for anything.”
I am sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused you. It certainly was not my intention to disrespect or hurt you in any way. While I do not agree with what you wrote about me, I do respect your right to express yourself.
God bless you Harold. I wish you well in all your endeavors.
Good luck and best wishes,
Copy of letter on King’s stationary and me returning his $10,000 back to him via cashier’s check
The above photo was taken by my late brother Tyrik Bell aka Puddin, Billy and William. Don hired him as his photographer and Tyrik moved to Florida to work for him. I tried to explain to my brother this was just a ploy by King for me telling him to kiss my ass for the past two decades. I understood he could not turn the job down but I warned him to keep his bags packed. He lasted two years in Florida, longer than I had anticipated.
Photographer Tyrik Bell
I don’t know Al Hayman but it is rumored he is the brains behind Floyd Mayweather, the richest and best boxer on the planet (pending on his disposal of the Pac Man). It is also rumored that Hayman controls a stable of some 40 to 50 boxers and he just closed a deal that would bring FREE boxing back to television (NBC). If all these things hold true he is on his way to surpassing Don King as the Greatest promoter ever. I hope the rumors that he has a plantation mentality when it comes to pro boxing and today’s fighters. I hope this is just “He say she say!” Another King we don’t need—Don King.