"Oh, no," said the man. "I just asked him to come to a party."
Being a celebrity was diverting for a while, a way for Leonard to come back to earth, and he was happy bouncing here and there and playing Sugar Ray. "I recall coming back home, and for a month there was glory and the works," he says. "September passed and October came and I was back to being Ray Leonard from Sugar Ray—back in my own little world again. I had to rebuild and it took time."
And then it caught up with him. "I was just trapped in a web of nothing," Leonard says. "I'd stabilized. But I couldn't move. I didn't know where to go. I was confused and I was out of it." And he felt a twinge of bitterness, too, because there had been no big endorsement offers of the kind he had expected. "I felt I had done some things for the country," he says. "So it bothered me for a while. It was brief stardom."
Janks Morton, to whom Leonard had grown extremely close, sensed his drift and his depression. "After Ray won the medal, I think he had the definite impression that it was going to be worth a great deal of money to him," Morton says. "Just that medal. But he wasn't Bruce Jenner. If Ray had had a different complexion, I'm quite sure he would never have had to put on another glove and still would have been a rich man. You didn't see any Sugar Ray Leonard selling Wheaties. And I didn't want to see him selling roach sprays, either. That's the end of the line. You degrade yourself with that."
With no money coming in, Leonard, still adrift, was finally forced to make a decision about his future when it was discovered in late summer that his father, ill at the Olympics, was suffering from meningitis. About the same time, Gertha suffered two mild heart attacks. They were both hospitalized. Since the Olympics Morton had been telling Leonard that he had to choose among fighting, going to school and doing something else, that the public following he'd won in July would be irretrievably lost if he waited too long. "I told Ray how quick people forget," Morton says. "I said to him, 'Your fame will be gone before you know it. If you want to take advantage of it, do it now. Later it may be too late.' I didn't think he believed me when I first told him."
Morton soon dispelled the doubt. He took Leonard to Washington and introduced him to some of his friends and insurance clients. A few barely recalled him; others remembered him not at all.
"You know who this is?" Morton would ask. "The little guy in the Olympics, Sugar Ray Leonard."
Morton also took him to a busy intersection in Washington, where they waited for Leonard to be recognized. "I was expecting people to say, 'Sugar Ray. Hey, Sugar Ray!' " Leonard says. He heard no such salutations. People simply looked and went on about their business, and this was in Leonard's backyard. He was amazed. "I never thought of myself as a celebrity," he says, "so it didn't bother me. But it made me think a lot. A month after the Olympics, boom! Nothing."
Unable to decide what to do, and with his parents ill, Leonard left Palmer Park in early fall for Burlington, Vt., where he had trained for the Olympics and had become friends with some students at the University of Vermont. "That's the only place I knew," he says. He had been up there a week, relaxing and thinking and playing basketball, when he finally decided what to do. If he was encouraged to turn pro because his hands no longer hurt him, it was the illness of his parents, neither of whom could now work, that forced his decision. "I don't know why else I got in it but for my mother and father," he says. "There was nothing else I could do that would've given me fast money, the kind of money I needed to support a family. It was like I'd received a message: Do it, and do it now." So he did it. Leonard had already been getting advice on what to do and what not to do if he chose to go back to the ring. With Brotman, for instance, he had attended the heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton in Yankee Stadium. They visited the champ in the dressing room before the fight.