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'Just Pray For Me, Baby'
Gary Smith
June 20, 1988
Michael Spinks will rely on more than his strength and his cunning when he tries to take Mike Tyson's title
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June 20, 1988

'just Pray For Me, Baby'

Michael Spinks will rely on more than his strength and his cunning when he tries to take Mike Tyson's title

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Michael Spinks stares at the ceiling. There is silence on the phone. Of course not; no, he'd say none of this to his daughter. Not now, anyway.

Let's talk about eatin' ice cream, girl, or a new pair of black shiny shoes, let's shoo that man from your pretty little head. 'Cause I know you're scared, Shel, I'm scared too; I know my meter's runnin'. See, God lets us do things that aren't altogether good for us—like boxin' heavyweights or drivin' fast or drinkin' rum—yeah, He lets us, but He always flips the meter on. A careful man like me, you'd think I'd remember that, but only last year I was drivin' home one night, dark road, 4 a.m., and I tried to trick the meter. Ten minutes, that's all I give myself to drive fast each day, "cause somethin' in me loves to, but this time I let it slide to 15...16...20. Came around a bend, swerved to miss a car, hit a stone, musta done a couple flips, I don't even remember. Next thing I know the back windshield's gone and the car's totaled and I'm lucky to be alive. And the strangest thing, I'd been desirin' a new car for months—watch what you ask for, Shelly; God'll give it to you in a way you don't expect it.

Every time I do too much wantin', too much reachin', too much pushin', life's waitin' just around the bend to crush me. Even the one time I played the slot machines, I did it right; I pulled the lever inch by inch, real slow; I didn't yank it. You got to kind of feather life, Shelly; it's as if God built a spring action into it that lets you nudge it a little bit, maybe a little bit more, and then—pull back, baby, payback's comin'! I seen it happen to Leon, seen it happen to me, seen it happen all around me. Manager of our project shot my dog one day just for barkin'. Good ol' doggie, Major was, only one I ever had that didn't get the mange. I followed the blood drops till they disappeared, couldn't ever find where he went off to die, and felt too bad to cry. My mother, she's a very religious woman. She said that man'd get his, and sure enough, ended up crushed to death inside a car.

It's a hard thing, knowin' that everything you do in this life gonna circle back to you, gonna come out in the wash, but maybe it's even harder if you look at bad things as happenin' for no reason at all—then none of us got any say. And now I know you're gonna ask the question, go ahead, girl, I can feel it comin', but I can't answer it, baby. I just don't know. I'd like to believe it wasn't 'cause she done anything wrong that your mommy got crushed in the car, or because I done anything wrong. I'd like to think that the Lord just wanted her then, baby, that it was her time...but baby, I don't know.

Oh, Michelle, if only you knew how your daddy used to blame himself. Listen, baby, I'm gonna tell you the whole story of that time, and then I'm gonna stop talkin', 'cause I can't go on like this no longer. See, it all started early in January 1983, two months before the biggest fight of my life, when I was drivin' my car in Philly with your uncle Leland, and the cops pulled me over and found this gun. Something innocent, baby—I never carried no gun, it was just a gift that some guy had given me after the Olympics that I shot off into the sky on New Year's Eve, the way we did back as kids, and then stuck it under the seat and forgot about. But you can never be careful enough, I can't tell you that enough times, ordinary turns into crazy in a heartbeat. Next day it's all over the papers, Michael Spinks in a high-speed chase, which wasn't true, carryin' a gun reported stolen in Canada, which I knew nothin' at all about, and everybody sayin', see, just like his brother Leon.

Few days later I got a press conference to go to in Atlantic City, to talk about fightin' Dwight Braxton. He was light heavyweight champion at the time, and so was your daddy—don't ask me to explain. And your mommy asks if she can go with me. We were arguin' some at the time, not gettin' along so well. And she had this way of takin' forever to get ready to go somewhere. So your daddy said no, child. Your daddy said no.

I go off to Atlantic City. And your mommy, she gets in a car that night, going God knows where, and she's passin' this ramp on the expressway, and God knows why, but she...she doesn't see this other car. Baby, the next day when I saw what was left of the car your mommy was in, I fell down and cried, and I cried every day for weeks, right out in public, made people look up from their plates in restaurants and then look away; your daddy couldn't bear the guilt and pain. Went to the house to pack her things up and, Shelly, I still can't figure it, Sandy had packed all her clothes into suitcases before she'd got in that car, as if she knew she and this world were partin'.

What had I done to deserve this, I kept askin' God, but I knew it couldn't be one thing, it had to be a whole list. But instead of soothin' me, God just kept right on poundin'. My brand-new car gets stolen a few weeks later, on the day I leave for training camp, then my sparring partner slams me in the ribs so hard I can't take a breath without squinchin' up my eyes, and here I got this fight against the toughest guy in my division and I'm doubled up in pain on both the outside and the inside, my life feelin' like it's comin' off its hinges, like it did when I was young, and I'm beggin' someone to say the words for me 'cause I can't bring my lips to say 'em—please, call off the fight.

So now I'm in the locker room, few minutes before I got to fight Braxton, who's a Tyson minus 40 pounds, and your aunt all of a sudden brings you in. You were two then, baby, and you look at me with those big eyes and say, "Where's Mommy?" and that did it, all my fightin' thoughts just leaked away, and I crushed you to my chest and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. And all of a sudden people are shoutin', "It's time! Let's go, Mike! Time to do it, man," and there's tears runnin' down my face beneath my hood on the way to the ring, and there's Braxton, dark and thick, like a cloud.

Shelly, I ain't gonna say this but once, and never again, and excuse my language, and remember it when your in-sides are shakin' and Tyson's standin' there starin' at me in the ring: Your daddy is one tough sonofabitch.

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