darkens, he shakes his head no. His explanation has spilled out of the locker
room and into a restaurant. "I'm not an athlete, don't call me an athlete.
How can you compare me with Billie Jean King or Magic Johnson? They're
athletes. Athletes have careers. Athletes have to prepare. At any moment, I'm
ready. I never liked sports. Sports are only social events. I'm a warrior, a
missionary. What I do is an obsession. If I wasn't in boxing, I'd be breaking
laws, that's my nature."
face turns, shines as it must have before he knew that a human being could
behead a bird, and to the waiter in a restaurant that serves half a dozen Gulf
Shrimp Garibaldi for $24.75, he asks, "Do you have ice cream on a
"Once I was
supposed to meet a girl," he says, "but on the way I saw an icecream
store. I knew if I went in, I'd miss the girl. I didn't know what to do. I went
into the store, and while I was eating the ice cream, I was very happy, I
didn't care at all about the girl. It was only when I was done that I wished
I'd met the girl."
He laughs and
grabs his listener's shoulder, his head nuzzles against it, almost like a
puppy. Does anyone understand how painful it is to be this—and in the blink of
an eye or the ring of a bell to be its inverse? Opposites rubbing each other,
throwing sparks: This is his everyday life.
great fistfighters, and it makes great fistfighters' managers gray. Abruptly
Mike vanishes on them; he misses a flight or an appointment; and his handlers
are calling everyone he knows: Where's Mike, have you seen him?
Yes, there he is,
almost a year ago, standing in a Hollywood parking lot on a warm summer night
next to a pretty girl who works there. He tries to steal a kiss. Suddenly a
man, who also works there, comes between them. Mike slaps the man aside.
Assault charges will be filed against him. His managers will pay off the pretty
girl and the man rather than undergo the bad publicity of a trial.
A walking time
bomb, some boxing people call him. He fights every three months because he
needs a release, not just because he needs the experience. "Of course, his
people are worried about him," says Jose Torres, a friend of Tyson's and a
former D'Amato champion. "I worry, too."
In the big white
house where Mike still sometimes stays, 83-year-old Camille looks down from the
TV, finds his round rough head lying in her lap. "He's almost purring like
a kitten," she says. "He's begging to be stroked. He needs affection
very much. Oh, I worry. I worry about the people he goes out with, that only
care about having a good time. I worry what could happen if he gets angry in
public—I've seen him angry, and I know. He has ring discipline but not life
discipline; Cus died before he had time to teach him that. He still can't sit
in one place. He'll be sitting here with one girl and go to the phone and call
another. But after all, he's still a child...." She pulls out a recent
Mother's Day card. "For someone I love," it says, "and wish you was
my mother. Happy Mother's day and I love you. By Michael, your black
She puts away the
card, the imaginary head her hands were stroking vanishes from her lap. The
house is quiet; it's the night before a snowfall. Somewhere out there, his
Rolls-Royce prowls the streets. Is it time to try the other way to hush the
beast, the way more frightening, more dangerous, the biggest risk of all?
On Feb. 7, 1988,
he walks up the aisle of a Catholic church in Chicago. The scores of women who
said yes to him are nowhere to be seen. The TV actress who turned back his
engagement ring, the one he had to conquer, is the one who, on the spur of the
moment, he marries.