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Blood Relations
Gary Smith
April 17, 2006
Sportswriter Sam Kellerman might have gone even further than his older brother, HBO analyst Max Kellerman, if his generosity to an old boxing friend hadn't led to murder.
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April 17, 2006

Blood Relations

Sportswriter Sam Kellerman might have gone even further than his older brother, HBO analyst Max Kellerman, if his generosity to an old boxing friend hadn't led to murder.

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At 9:45 p.m. on a Sunday in the autumn of 2004, Detective Elizabeth Estupinian of the Los Angeles Police Department entered a small apartment just off Sunset Boulevard. On the floor lay a sportswriter beneath a blanket. On his skull were the wounds from 32 blows by a blunt instrument. Against the wall leaned a blood-spattered hammer. The sportswriter's car was missing, and so was his houseguest: a professional boxer with bipolar disorder whose nickname was the Hammer. ¶ It seemed, perhaps, the simplest murder case in Detective Estupinian's 11 years on the job. Unless she happened to be the sort of sleuth who wouldn't rest until she scraped the very bottom of why. ¶ Here was something odd: The victim, just weeks earlier, had written a story about his suspected murderer. Odder yet: a story about his murderer's struggle to control his violent impulses. The detective had only to Google the names of the 29-year-old sportswriter, Sam Kellerman, and of the 31-year-old light heavyweight boxer, James Butler, and up would pop Sam's column for foxsports.com. ¶ Sam wrote of having been in the audience three years earlier when the Hammer--donating part of his purse that night to families victimized by the 9/11 terrorists--lost a unanimous decision on national television to Richard Grant ... and then, as Grant reached to shake hands after the verdict, unloaded a bare-knuckle sucker punch that dropped Grant to the canvas unconscious, his jaw broken and mouth spurting blood.

Sam's column described Butler's subsequent diagnosis--bipolar disorder--and his comeback after going to prison for four months for the assault. "You ... end up hurting people you love," he quoted the Hammer as saying. "They try to help you, and you flip on them for some small thing.... I've taken the classes, read the books; I know what to do. You can reach a level where you don't need the medication anymore, you just have to be strong-minded." His behavior since the assault had been exemplary. That's what Sam wrote.

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Hold on. If the detective happened to type the names Sam Kellerman and James Butler in the Google box and click on SEARCH, another Kellerman would appear: Max Kellerman, the former host of Around the Horn on ESPN and I, Max on Fox, the HBO boxing analyst, the New York City sports talk-show host ... and Sam's older brother.

On the night Butler cold-cocked Grant, Max was a studio analyst on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights. He begged to differ with his network's blow-by-blow man, Bob Papa, who howled that Butler was "a disgrace to the human race" and with other ESPN colleagues who demanded that the Hammer be banned from boxing for life.

Click. Max wrote a column recommending only a one-year suspension, with a review, for Butler. If one fireman punched another, he asked, would he be permanently deprived of his right to earn a living in his chosen profession?

Click. Max took the Hammer to lunch the day before he entered the gates of New York City's Rikers Island to serve his sentence for the assault.

Click. What? Max and Sam, a pair of Jewish kids from Fifth Avenue, were rappers together before they became sportscaster and sportswriter. The video for their single, Young Man Rumble, appeared on cable television ... with Butler as part of the cast.

If Detective Estupinian wished to solve the riddle of Sam and James, she would have to unravel the mystery of Max and Sam.

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