Even for boxing, this was not just another day at the office. Not when it began with a predawn vigil outside an Indiana prison, four helicopters hanging in the dark air beneath a crescent moon, a garden of satellite dishes blooming in a parking area, a lineup of citizens standing (since 5 a.m.) in a field of corn stubble just beyond the grounds, mysterious men in black fedoras and big overcoats clustering in a gravel parking lot nearby and reporters and photographers marking time behind yellow police tape.
You didn't know what to make of this scene. How could you? You just stood in the twilight and watched as what you understood to be reality unraveled before your eyes.
There were odd comings and goings in the dimness of Saturday morning, small excitements at the medium-security prison known as the Indiana Youth Center. At 6 a.m. a black limousine slid up the long driveway, and promoter Don King disembarked, along with his minions John Home and Rory Holloway and some others, and the crowd thrilled a bit. The men disappeared inside the visitors' center, and dawn broke behind the prison, and soon there was the glint of sunshine on the coiled razor wire, and all you could do was watch some more. You could actually see the time pass; water towers were beginning to leave their marks on the flat farmland.
And then it hit you. The battle for Mike Tyson's earning power, for his life, for his soul might be ending just like that, in the loneliness of the Hoosier countryside, on a day that looked to be turning gorgeous. At 6:20 a.m. a tall man holding his black leather overcoat open like a drape burst from the door, and the same entourage, grown by one now, rumbled forth into the waiting limousine. Except for the white knit skullcap that Tyson wore—it reflected all the available light, and you could see him easily in the middle of the moving huddle—it seemed that he was not much changed by three years in jail. It was a gloomy and quickly arriving idea: Weren't these the same men who, more or less, had delivered him here?
As the limo pulled away—"To the mosque!" cried a photographer, registering Tyson's new faith by his kufi cap and triggering a kind of land rush among the 200 media members who drove across yards to get there—the helicopters tilted in the sky, ending their suspension above the prison and casting shadows over a land that Tyson will not likely see again, unless something goes very, very wrong.
And you just never know, do you? That will be the intrigue Mike Tyson brings not just to the ring but to his life. Tyson's time served on his rape conviction might have reshaped him entirely. His readings, his studies of Islam might have arrested the frighteningly downward spiral of his life and career and set him on the road to greatness. Or he was simply returning to the life he left, where neither King's promotion nor caretaking can quite save him from self-destruction. It was impossible to tell in Saturday's dawning.
But by Monday the news began to suggest that Tyson was independent of King in ways beyond just religion. A boxing insider told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that a "huge power struggle" was under way, with King attempting to rush into a six-fight deal with the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and pay-per-view broadcaster Showtime.
Whether Tyson balked at the presumption of King's timing or was just spreading his religious wings is hard to say. But another well-informed source reported that, upon returning to his home in Southing-ton. Ohio. Tyson put the kibosh on a welcome home party and booted almost everyone in attendance, including King and a Showtime crew, apparently there for documentary footage, with King's permission. The New York Daily News reported that King made additional gaffes besides timing. The strangest is that King, who should know better, reportedly stocked the limo with Dom Perignon, and Tyson's refrigerator with beef, goat, lamb, pork, rabbit and seafood. Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol and eating pork or shellfish.
Then, too, there were reports that Tyson had wed fourth-year Georgetown medical student Monica Turner, 28, while he was in prison. Both religious and prison officials were skeptical of that news, but it was one more signal that Tyson may be subject to influences other than King's.
Of course, Tyson is the king himself at sending mixed signals. The news during his prison stay was fragmented and often contradictory and did not contribute to a sense that rehabilitation was being accomplished. He was said to be reading Machiavelli and Malcom X, yet he got in a jail-yard beef with a corrections officer. He reportedly had the likenesses of Arthur Ashe and Mao Tse-tung tattooed on his biceps, yet he refused to express the contrition necessary for a sentence reduction. He astounded Maya Angelou on a visit when he recited her poetry back to her, yet he failed a GED exam. You didn't know what to make of it. And the white skullcap hinted at a transformation that may or may not be contradictory.