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"That line ain't original!" cried the Hammer. "That's Pac! Tupac is my man!"
They laughed. Sam and the Hammer had found a common language. They began heading down 42nd Street after training sessions, window-shopping, hip-hopping, the playwright and the pug. At Sam's side James became the man he wanted to be, the curious and sensitive guy who planned to spend his days after boxing helping at-risk kids from broken homes, kids like him. He'd watch Sam's acts of generosity--giving meals and even the shirt off his back to the homeless and, years later, directing a play to raise money for the families of the 9/11 victims--and he'd be inspired to give part of a $20,000 fight purse to the same cause.
One day Sam--who loved women and the words that made women melt--decided to melt one for his pal, talking up James to a girl they'd just met. James wanted no part of Sam's setup. Suddenly Sam was staring into two glowing coals where his buddy's eyes had been. "Man, I hope James never snaps on somebody," Sam told Ness. "He's like Tyson." But it didn't scare away Sam.
So when Ruffhouse Records, a label of Columbia Records, offered to produce a single and a video of Max and Sam's Young Man Rumble--just another day in Max's World--Sam asked the Hammer to appear in it. James showed up, grumbled over the long hours and lack of pay and left before the shoot was done.
Max began to sour on Sam's buddy. Still, for Sam's sake, Max stood up for the Hammer on TV and in his espn.com column after James sucker-punched Grant, then took the Hammer to lunch to encourage him.
Max wouldn't tell his brother to stop reaching out to a troubled soul. That would be killing the best part of Sam. But there was more to it than that: As long as Sam's selflessness existed in the world, Max was free to charge toward his goals, to cash in on his talent. In tandem they could solve the paradox in their blood--kinship with the weak and insistence on strength. They shared one consciousness and knew they couldn't be beaten, because each of them was two people, while everyone else was one. That's what Max said.
A love that complicated, of course, mired Max in a quandary. His duty as crew chief of MaSaHaJa, keeper of the Brothers Kellerman, was to jam his foot in the doorway of the American dream and keep it open long enough for SaHaJa to blow in and take over the control room. How could he fully relish his success as long as Sam was writing books and screenplays that he showed to no one, directing and acting in plays in front of a few hundred people to raise money for the bereaved?
One day a shelf full of chess books in the library at Columbia caught Max's eye, and he devoured this new game the way he had boxing. The universe was too vast and unruly for a man of logic to control. But a chessboard, like a boxing ring, had rules and parameters within which cause and effect could be tested, demonstrated, controlled.
Max's career became a chess game. He pored over it, searching for the move that would maximize his--and his brothers'--advantage two or three moves later. In 1998 he parlayed a highlights reel from Max on Boxing into a job as cohost of ESPN2's Friday Night Fights. He was good. Very good. Decibels and decimals, his family's dinner-table debates in front of a camera. Three years later, at 28, he flew to Los Angeles and strode into a roomful of executives at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, moguls who steered the careers of Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage and Adam Sandler and who thought this hotshot young boxing analyst had come seeking guidance in his field. "I have no interest in continuing in sports," Max informed them. "I want to be starring in a feature film in 12 months and accepting an Oscar in a year and a half. And the real reason you'll want to work with me is that then you'll get to work with my three brothers. Just wait until you see what they can do." After raving about Sam's writing and acting skills, Harry's prizewinning short films and Jack's wizardry in musical production, Max turned to a Jewish executive and began speaking Yiddish. Then he left, and everyone just sat there, blinking.
Michael Price, a talent manager dazzled by the performance, knew he had to harness the performer. You, he told Max, could make so much money in broadcasting that you could produce your own movie one day and star in it, so why spend 10 years starving in audition lines? Max saw the logic, and in no time the two of them parlayed his boxing cameos on Pardon the Interruption into a role as fill-in host on the show, parlayed that into a job hosting his own show, Around the Horn, and then turned that into a blockbuster deal to host I, Max on Fox. Everything he plotted ... worked. A man could take hold of his fate.