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What Donald Trump learned from Don King

What Donald Trump learned from Don King
What Donald Trump learned from Don King


For more than three decades, boxing promoter Don King and Donald J. Trump have shared an enduring friendship and apparent similarities: a go-to hairstyle and a selfish courage that became a kind of superpower, a trail of beleaguered creditors and an unwavering belief that more it is more.

Putting some gas in the tank, Mr. King, 92, said recently at a South Florida bistro-casino, presiding over a 4 p.m. lunch of New York strip steak, three eggs on bacon, sausage, pancakes, grits, cranberry juice, coffee (black like me), with agave syrup and African hot sauce that he brought from home.

His server asked him if he was missing anything. Yeah, Mr. King said, we're going to need more butter.

As much as any figure in Mr. Trump's grandiose and wild public life, Mr. King modeled what Mr. Trump saw as success as a black man in America. For the former president, Mr. King was both an ally and an example, half a generation older and an avatar of the unrepentant excess and streetwise bravado of Mr. Trump's 1980s heyday in New York.

If the famous promoter may seem airlifted from another era when the boxing business was king, where Mr. King was the boxing business, where some scores were settled outside the ring and the legal system, he was the time when much of Mr. Trump’s world seems to have frozen into one worldview.

He was never an establishment man and he was proud of it, Mr. Trump said in a statement sent by his presidential campaign, hailing Mr. King as a champion and fighter like few others. He made money when others lost money, and he's been doing it for a long time. I rate it at the top!

In a 90-minute interview, Mr. King said the two men learned a lot from each other, reinforcing their mutual professional instincts as they promoted fights under Mr. Trump's casino banner in Atlantic City.

At the height of their handshake negotiations, Mr. King and Mr. Trump made money together, advertised together and overcame business disputes together.

Donald Trump was a young man who wanted to be himself, Mr. King said. In business, hyperbole works because you know you're not breaking any laws. You exaggerate. You know what I mean? You are promoting. You make things more exciting.

Reverend Al Sharpton put it more succinctly.

If Donald Trump had been born black, Mr. Sharpton said, he would have been Don King.

Now, as some polls have shown, Mr. Trump is making modest but potentially significant inroads with black voters, alarming Democrats as President Biden works to consolidate his position. Mr. King remains a staunch supporter who understands the former president like few others can.

Dwelling little on Mr. Trump's long history of racial harassment, Mr. King blessed his transactional approach to politics and business as the wisdom acquired from a fellow traveler whom Mr. King helped show the way .

Before Mr. Trump promised to make America great again, Mr. King was only shouting America! to any camera within range.

Before Mr. Trump was hearing resounding ovations at sold-out cage fights, endearing him to a hypermasculine segment of his base, he was at ringside with Mr. King to watch Mike Tyson, who later accused Mr. King for defrauding him.

Before Mr. Trump was a criminal who insisted the system was rigged, so was Mr. King.

They treat Trump like a black man, said Mr. King, who served prison time more than half a century ago after stomping an associate to death over a debt, echoing some of the conspiracy theories by Mr. Trump about his secret trial in Manhattan. He is guilty until proven innocent.

Although slowed by age, Mr. King remains, like Mr. Trump, very much the person he was when they met, wearing a bedazzled denim jacket with his own face on it and paying his bill lunch from a thick rubber-bound bundle of hundreds. band.

With a home in Boca Raton, Fla., a nearby office and a group of relatives and associates helping him keep up appearances, Mr. King continued to promote fights in the area, anchored by boxers often in decline or second rank and its own straight line. -faced promises that every match is an unprecedented spectacle.

Excitement is in the air! he said this month from ringside at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., midway through a mid-power but entertaining fight card sponsored by a printing company and two strip clubs. tease. A spectacular event!

For boxing fans who meet him, Mr. King is always a rolling attraction, whether he is wheeling his walker across the casino floor or being pushed in his wheelchair by a grandson.

Approached by watchful strangers who notice his Don King crown-shaped beanbag, what's up, baby! Only in America! he poses with well-wishers who playfully pump fists for the camera but don't really interact with him, proceeding as if they were standing next to a wax statue of the man.

With those who make him speak, Mr. King is not inclined to stop, peppering an interview with allusions to Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare (the Bard of Avon!), Muhammad Ali (the greatest of all time!), Johnnie Cochran (the glove didn't fit!), the OJays, Schopenhauer, himself and the willful rebuttals of his many critics over the years.

There's a phrase long attributed to Jack Newfield, Mr. King's mad biographer: Forget death and taxes. The only sure thing is that whether he wins or loses, Don King counts the money.

This is absurd, Mr. King suggested.

I never count the money, he explained. If you know how to count your money, you don't have any.

Mr. King and Mr. Trump have remained in touch, mostly visiting each other and reminiscing over the phone.

Evaluating each other recently, they touched on a surprisingly similar topic: the art of turning nominal losses into gains.

I have seen him in the heat of battle, some of it very tough, and he always comes out on top,” Mr. Trump said in his statement. Don understands the importance of never giving up. (The former president previously testified for Mr. King in a trial over disputed fight contracts.)

Mr. King said his respect for Mr. Trump deepened as his properties faltered in the 1990s.

What really impressed me was when he started taking it on the chin, Mr. King said. He turned bankruptcy into a business.

Mr. Trump's campaign highlighted Mr. King's support for 2024 on social media with a video clip and a boxing glove emoji. Aides also highlighted his long relationships with other black sports figures of the 1980s and 1990s, including Mr. Tyson and Herschel Walker, the former football star who lost a Senate race in Georgia two years ago.

But Mr. Trump’s friendship with Mr. King has survived some past Republican efforts to create distance between them.

When Mr. Trump pushed Mr. King to speak at his 2016 inauguration convention, party officials said Republicans could not risk associating with someone once convicted of manslaughter.

Two months later, Mr. King still found himself at the microphone on Mr. Trump's behalf, joining the candidate at a church in Ohio.

We need Donald Trump, Mr. King said then, especially black people.

Recalling the advice he once gave Michael Jackson, Mr. King vowed that day to clean up his anecdote to avoid saying the N-word. Fourteen seconds later, he said it.

Ahhhhh, Mr. Trump said warmly afterwards, while a small media hurricane was underway. There is only one Don King.

These days, the promoter admitted, being Don King isn't quite what it used to be.

At his restaurant table, he rubbed a ring given to him by his wife, Henrietta, who died in 2010. We are still together, he said.

Mr. Ali, whose career helped boost Mr. Kings after the promoter's release from prison, died six years later. Mr. King lit up briefly as he recited the heavyweight float like a butterfly refrain from his seat. (In their zigzagging partnership, Mr. King was also accused of cheating Mr. Ali out of his fighting salary.)

But even as his once-dominant sport has ceded the national spotlight, Mr. King is still clearly drawn to its pageantry.

At a news conference preceding the recent fights, Mr. King played the role of master of ceremonies in a Hard Rock ballroom for more than an hour, beginning his remarks with a digression about Mr. . Trump and smiling through a chaotic exchange between his headliners. (One fighter, Blair Cobbs, the eventual winner between the ropes, launched into extended pieces with a puppet and two live birds; the other, Adrien Broner, appeared to threaten Mr. Cobbs with gun violence.)

When fight night arrived, Mr. King found himself in a more reflective mood, offering a tour of the pins on his jacket: one celebrating Mr. Alis' 1974 Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, another of Lady Liberty, a third from the National Shooting Association.

He posed with a man in a Lets Go Brandon hat who mocked Mr. Biden and nodded at some shouted greetings nearby:

The gift!

The living legend!

When the most prestigious fights began, Mr. King trudged up a small flight of stairs with help and hid under the ropes to enter the ring for the boxers' arrival, defying a publicist's predictions (and, almost certainly, best medical practices for a semi-rep). -mobile nonagenarian) and delighting the crowd.

Life is a fight, Mr. King said quietly, spontaneously, as he settled into his padded wheelchair at ringside.

He was asked which turn he was on. He chuckled a little, then fell silent.

You'll know, Mr. King said, when the count comes.

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.




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