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Earl Manigault, once one of the basketball superheroes on Harlem's playgrounds, sat resting briefly during a scrimmage at the Utah Stars' training camp and pulled his red practice jersey up under his armpits to let air circulate around his sweating chest and belly. In the middle of his lean black torso a knot of scar tissue the color and breadth of a Ping-Pong ball emblazoned a grotesque reminder of his despair, a badge of the degeneration that made him an unlikely and, ultimately, unsuccessful pro rookie at the age of 25.
"It's a burn," he explained in the soft, matter-of-fact voice with which he discusses his past. "It happened one day after I shot up. I got high and was smoking a cigarette. Then I started noddin'. When I came down from the stuff my room was all smoked up and I was burning up. My sweat shirt had caught fire and my skin was burning."
The burn was the least of the pain Manigault has felt; the scar is the smallest of its lingering horrors.
Bill Daniels, who wired up a multimillion-dollar fortune in cable television, drove over the Rockies from his home in Denver to Salt Lake City the other day to watch Manigault try out for his ABA champion Utah Stars. It is logical that the Stars should be the first ABA team ever to turn a profit. Daniels is an inventive, self-made businessman's businessman, with tendencies toward gray suits, conservatism and flag waving. His Stars wear flags on their uniforms, as do the members of Daniels' Denver boxing team, and his red, white and blue Indianapolis car was informally christened "The Silent Majority Special" two years ago. "I'm the type of guy, if I go to a parade and they play Anchors Aweigh I'm ready to go sign up," he says. The new blue Cadillac Daniels drove to Utah has an American flag on each door but, significantly, neither is captioned, "Love it or leave it." For him, the flag he so unabashedly displays blankets a multitude of positions—his conservatism is something less than absolute. He is now married to his fourth wife, and says that it was not until he turned 35 that he realized, "I couldn't stay up all night partying and then do a decent job the next day. It was something that just dawned on me." More to the point, his compassion roams freely, saving him from turning into the stereotype he might be and allowing him to probe and understand the desperate world of an Earl Manigault.
Manigault and Daniels first met last winter at an Urban League storefront in Harlem. Earl arrived there via Charleston, S.C. and a fatherless tenement on West 133rd Street, but home had been the pitted black asphalt of Harlem's basketball courts. In Harlem he learned a lot about shooting and, in the end, even more about shooting up. He stole his way through Manhattan's garment district, picking off furs and dresses for the money he needed to support a heroin habit that was costing him $90 a day by 1968. He also traveled the dingy crypts of urban justice: 18 screaming, starving days of cold turkey withdrawal in Manhattan's aptly named Tombs and 16 only slightly better months at Green Haven Prison in Stormville, N.Y. In December 1970, Manigault came back to Harlem.
Several months later Daniels arrived there, too, riding in a black Cadillac limousine and trying to find Manigault to offer him a chance with the Stars. "I heard that he was looking for me," says Manigault, "but I didn't know where he was staying. That same night Daniels walks in and asks, 'I'm looking for Earl Manigault. Is he here?' When he said who he was, I didn't know whether to believe it. This is really for me? I didn't hardly dare to think about it. It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me that was good."
Daniels had first read of Manigault in The City Game, an account of pro and playground basketball in New York written by Pete Axthelm of Newsweek, He recognized the commercial value Earl would have if he made the Stars, a notion that apparently had eluded the home-town Knicks and Nets. But more than that, Manigault's prison record interested Daniels, and it brought about the unlikely meeting between the young ex-junkie thief from Harlem and the 51-year-old businessman who describes himself as a Taft Republican.
Over the past several years Daniels has placed about 25 former prison inmates in jobs in his own or other companies. His experience indicated that Manigault, despite the nearly 100% recidivism rate among hard-drug addicts, might be successfully redirected.
"I'd been acquainted with cons and I knew the difficulty of getting them jobs," Daniels says. "The first eight or 10 I placed are all back in prison, but then I met Ron Lyle." Lyle was a convicted second-degree murderer who is now pursuing a promising heavyweight boxing career under Daniels' sponsorship. "The reason Ron has adjusted is that he's got a talent, something he knows he's good at and can dedicate himself to."
Daniels feels that his interest in ex-convicts is all a part of thinking conservatively and living liberally. Manigault puts it somewhat differently. "He and I only seen each other about three times, but he's about the most beautiful man I've ever met," says Earl. "With him you'd never be lost."