In 1984 Whitaker became the Olympic 132-pound champion, and then he turned pro. He was 15-0 until he came up against the judges at the Ram�rez fight. Whitaker married a pretty girl. He bought a BMW. He will fight Ch�vez someday, but first he is slated to fight IBF lightweight champion Greg Haugen early next year. Little Pete from the Park has become Sweet Pea the boxer. Someone to be envied.
Whitaker has just gone through his paces at the brand-new Wareing Gym in Virginia Beach, punching into black mitts with hard, dazzling combinations. He is not even breathing hard. Joey Fariello, who's training him for the Ram�rez fight, is holding the mitts and watching him work. Fariello is tired.
"Want some water, Pete?" Fariello asks.
"No," says Whitaker.
"Well," says Fariello, "I do."
The workout ends, and not a moment too soon for Whitaker. He has been in training and seclusion for four weeks, all for the Ram�rez fight. Now he's going out for the evening, to a basketball tournament he wouldn't miss for anything. "It's some AAU thing," says Fariello. Whitaker corrects him: "No. It's the C-I-double-A."
Soon Whitaker is headed into Norfolk, driving fast and talking faster. "I train where I want to train," he says. "My managers wanted me to train in Houston. They thought I'd get in trouble here. But I take care of myself. I told them, if you see me having a drink, don't say nothing. I drink from time to time—unless I'm training. They wonder why I didn't train in Houston, but they don't even know about the C-I-double-A."
CIAA stands for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and its tournament, simply put, is, for black colleges, the equivalent of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The CIAA semifinals are being played at Scope arena, across the street from Young Park. When he arrives, Whitaker is transformed from a fighter into a fan.
As he circles the floor, Whitaker draws a wave or two, a "Hey, Pete" or two, but for the most part he is ignored. The stares are directed at Hampton coach Bobby Dandridge and Bob Lanier, who was judging a slam dunk contest. One young man, reeking of alcohol, pays note. "Hey. Pete, remember me?" he asks. "I went to high school with you." Whitaker says he remembers. The young man smiles and follows Whitaker at a distance for the rest of the evening.
During the first half of Game 1, between Norfolk State and North Carolina Central, Whitaker goes up into the middle of the Norfolk State section and speaks to an older, distinguished-looking man. He is Dr. Harrison B. Wilson, president of Norfolk State. He had first met Whitaker when Pernell was in high school and was fighting as an amateur. Then, in the fall of '85, Whitaker and his managers came to the college to ask if the Norfolk State band could play at one of Whitaker's fights. For years Whitaker and Wilson lived the same distance off Brambleton Avenue in Norfolk—Whitaker in Young Park and Wilson in a fine old house next door to his office on the Norfolk State campus.