Would King do something so clumsily transparent and dumb? Quite possibly, if one reviews the catalog of shady King contract dealings reported by Jack Newfield in his recent biography, Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King. As early as 1975, Newfield reports, Ernie Butler, Larry Holmes's first manager, accused King of altering a management contract and forging Butler's name when king forced butler out and seized control of Holmes's career. Years later, after Holmes and King had parted ways over the heavyweight champion's allegations that King had shortchanged him on fight purses, King joked with Holmes about his approach to contracts. "I don't even need you to sign," King told Holmes, according to Newfield's book. "I've got your signature on the last page of a lot of contracts."
Then there is the case of another prominent heavyweight and former King client, Tim Witherspoon, who in 1982 found himself signing four contracts at a single sitting with King. One named King as his exclusive promoter, two named King's stepson Carl as his manager and the fourth was blank. King gave Witherspoon $1,500 in return for the four contract signatures. Witherspoon later collected a settlement of more than $1 million from King after suing him for a series of contract violations.
That's roughly $800,000 more than promoter Butch Lewis settled for in '81 after accusing King of forging a contract with former heavyweight champ Greg Page as King took management of Page away from Lewis.
King can't settle with the government the way he settled with Lewis and Witherspoon. And if he claims that he would never tamper with a contract, well, even the unflappable quote machine could be shaken in cross-examination. But though the 63-year-old King seems to be on the ropes this time, don't forget that he has made a career out of slipping punches.
Surf 'n' Turf Wars
The Oct. 3 sentencing of two surfers who were convicted of assault in the beating of another boardsman was only the latest, most disturbing evidence of what has swelled into a wave of bad vibrations in the sport. Lance Hookano, 34, a top surfer from Honolulu, and Joe Tudor, 44, of San Diego, the father of another young star, were each given three years' probation and 300 hours of community service for viciously pummeling 43-year-old Richard Ernsdorf of Sun Valley, Calif., in the water at Malibu's Surfrider Beach on Sept. 27,1994. Ernsdorf, a local amateur surfer who sustained a concussion and a separated shoulder, had apparently responded slowly when asked to leave the water so that the Oxbow Longboard World Championships could begin.
Such incidents are not unprecedented. The recent boom in surfing has made heretofore isolated surfing spots more crowded, and territorial wars have erupted over which waves belong to whom. Call it Wet Side Story. Frequently an area's regular surfers conspire to keep would-be outside boardsmen away by intimidation. In May a group of surfers from Torrance, Calif., filed a $6 million claim against the city of Palos Verdes Estates for allegedly failing to control the Bay Boys, a surfing gang that they say intimidated nonlocals who dared to try to surf at prime Lunada Bay.
All this seems far removed from endless summers and surfing safaris, and today's current of violence has given the lie to the sport's laid-back image. Killer waves may be hard to come by, but the Pacific's a big ocean, dudes.
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