Published: March 18, 2005
This is in no way recent tyson news, but a member sent me this and I thought that anyone who hasnt read it should, Its a very good read.
Tne night 20 years ago my brother Brian called me, talking in a voice touched with a kind of awe.”Cus found a heavyweight,” Brian said. “He’s 15, he’s raw, but he could be great.”
The young heavyweight’s name meant nothing then.
Mike Tyson was just another crude kid trying to be a fighter.
But talking with my brother, I remembered the lost years of the 1950s when I was starting to write, and hanging around after work at the old Gramercy Gym on E. 14th St. In those years, Cus D’Amato ran the gym in an austere style that was almost Victorian, and admitted to one abiding vision.
Mike Tyson struggles to get off his wallet in the fourth round Saturday night against Lennox Lewis in Memphis.
“You think a kid will walk in the door and become a masterpiece,” he said to me once. “He’ll be Ray Robinson and Benny Leonard and Joe Louis, all in one. He can box, he can punch, he can think.”
From that gym, Cus guided Floyd Patterson to the heavyweight championship of the world, shaping Floyd as trainer and manager. But Cus was always more than a manager. In his seminars at the Gramercy, he talked about everything from the mob, the uses of fear and the Civil War Gens. Grant and Lee. Some sportswriters thought he was a moralizing windbag. I enjoyed and respected him.
When I met Cus in 1958, Floyd was gone, their relationship frayed (over money), but Cus had Jose Torres, a brilliant young middleweight out of the1956 Olympics, and a fine Olympic welterweight named Joe Shaw, and other fighters of great promise, and in the afternoons we would hang around the gymwhile the fighters trained. Spending time with fighters was crucial to my education. Among many things, I learned from them about “heart,” that mysterious quality that accepts pain as part of the deal inboxing or in life. One young amateur fighter at that time in the Gramercy was my brother Brian.
So when he told me that Cus had found a heavyweight, and that he could be great, I could feel the emotion behind the words. Brian wanted it to be true, for Cus, and for the old rough fraternity of the Gramercy Gym. In the 1960s, Cus had abandoned New York and the small room in the gym where he often slept with a gun under the pillow (paranoid about hoodlums who wanted his fighters), taking his disappointed heart to the consolations of trees and meadows.
Upstate, Cus still trained young fighters, but most of them arrived and departed quickly. The social unraveling of the ’60s ran against D’Amato’s hard Depression-era codes of discipline; in his view, kids no longer accepted that notion of sacrifice essential to becoming a prizefighter.
For a long time, Cus was largely forgotten, except by his old fighters, some aging sportswriters, a few friends. A year after Brian told me about Tyson, I rode up with Torres to take a look.
Short but Powerful
Michael Gerard Tyson was short for a modern heavyweight, at least an inch under 6 feet, but he exuded power. He was out of Amboy St. in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and reform school, and he looked as if he could punch holes in walls. I watched him box a few rounds, where he worked on bending to throw a left hook to the body. Over and over again, while Cus watched. Later, when Tyson went to shower, Cus widened his eyes.
“This could be the one,” he said. “This could be the masterpiece.”
The Tyson saga was soon unfolding. Upstate, he started knocking out other raw kids at amateur smokers, and then, as his skills became more focused, he started winning tournaments. He lost a decision in the preliminaries to the 1984 Olympics, but soon he was a pro, knocking out the usual assortment of bums, deputy sheriffs and saloon bouncers, while learning his trade. I saw him occasionally in New York with Brian, then at his early fights here. He was usually shy and always intelligent.
Most of the people in his life then were white: Cus, the businessman Jimmy Jacobs, his trainer Kevin Rooney, friends who didn’t live off him, like Brian and the actor Danny Aiello. He became a champion. But then came calamity, and the sports story started becoming a darker novel. Cus died. Then Jimmy Jacobs died. Don King moved in on Tyson, and walls suddenly appeared around him. For a year, Brian and Danny called, left messages, never heard back from him; they are certain the messages were never delivered.
Moving from the world of Cus to the world of King was a radical shift of cultures. Austerity and self-denial gave way to flattery, license, luxury, a rapper’s vision of paradise. Kevin Rooney, preacher of the Cus gospel, was soon gone. The skills began to fade into sloppiness. Tyson was knocked out by Buster Douglas and was never again to be a champion. In 1993, I interviewed him when he was prisoner 922335 in a jail called the Indiana Youth Center after a conviction for rape.
But when he was beaten and humiliated by Lennox Lewis on Saturday night, I remembered another side of him. A year ago, Brian got terribly sick, suffered through a 14-hour operation, and came home, possessed only of his fighter’s heart. Tyson called him every day for three months, and visited him each time he was in New York. Sometimes he wept.
I don’t care anymore about boxing; it’s the sweatshop of sports. Nor do I care about fighters becoming masterpieces. But that Tyson the flawed, angry, sometimes brutal man who also came to my brother’s side I’ll cherish him forever.