" 'Round about November he started to come out of it," said Jones Sr. "Lot of people were saying, Hey, you're waiting too long. But it's not too long if he ain't ready. I've known him all his life. I raised him. I was the one to know when he was ready."
It was suggested to Jones Sr. that perhaps he's trying to relive his own life through his son, that in boxing's history the father-son relationship can be destructive: Joe and Marvis Frazier come to mind. Jones Sr. came close to anger. "I stood over Roy's life the day he was born," he says. "My only concern is Roy's welfare. And if I'm going to be blackballed for looking after my son, well then go ahead! Call me Tar Baby!"
While Jones Sr.'s rejection of the boxing establishment may appear noble, that image has lately been tarnished, chiefly because of the way he has added to his team one of the more notorious figures in the recent history of the sport. In Pensacola, back on the boxing scene for the first time since he was grabbed by 30 FBI agents (his count) near Dodger Stadium in April 1981, is none other than Ross Fields, a.k.a. Harold Smith, now, legally, Harold Rossfields Smith.
On October 31st, Smith was paroled from Federal Prison Camp in Boron, Calif., after serving more than five years of a 10-year sentence for embezzling $21.3 million from the Wells Fargo Bank. In the months before his arrest, Smith was at the height of his fame as a promoter of boxing extravaganzas, and was preparing a show in New York featuring four world-title fights.
Now, eight years later, he is starting out again. Smith cuts a neat figure. His beard is trim and professorial, his voice low and cultivated, a simple gold chain his only adornment. "I never did no hard time," he says, recalling how his 41st birthday had been celebrated at the federal institution in Danbury, Conn. "My Italian friends woke me up," he says, "and they told me, 'Vinny wants to see you in the back.' I go out. There it is, a bottle of champagne in a cooler. And a glass with a cherry in it."
And he tells with pride how, when the Bureau of Prisons moved him to one of its other hostelries, in Petersburg, Va., he brought in guest speakers and handed out T-shirts. " Harold Smith was a legend in that environment," he says without smiling. Official Harold Smith T-shirts were also on view in Pensacola on Saturday night. They bore a prominent dollar sign.
Smith says that a matchmaker put him in touch with Pappy Gault, Jones's assistant trainer and a former Olympic coach. "Pappy explained what the family was going through," says Smith. "And I saw that here was a father who loved his son. It was nothing to do with money. Mr. Jones set up a ring for the local kids in a cow pasture. I ran the Muhammad Ali amateur boxing team. So I could relate to that."
But, he is asked, is it not unseemly for a young Olympian to involve himself with a man fresh out of the joint? "I had a banking problem, not a boxing problem," says Smith in a mildly reproving tone. "If they give a man like Don King a license, why shouldn't I have one? Mr. Jones told me, 'I asked around in boxing, but I couldn't find anybody with a bad word to say about you.' "
That could be true. Last Friday, to hype the fight, the promoters staged a mock weigh-in on the flight deck of the USS
, docked in Pensacola. At Smith's behest, some ring celebrities were in attendance, including Ken Norton ("I came here because I believe in Harold"), Alexis Arguello ("Harold will do good things for the boxing industry") and Larry Holmes, who, when asked what he was doing in Pensacola, replied, "I'm hanging out with Harold."
"I wanted Ali to be here," Smith lamented, "but he's in the Saudi Arabian desert, drinking grapefruit juice and meditating."