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Boxing promoter basks in glow of NAACP award

July 15, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Don King, the flamboyant boxing promoter associated with big-money prize fights, lawsuits and glitzy Las Vegas living, is basking in recognition of a different sort _ an NAACP award for ``significant support of social causes.″

``I’m a farmer in the field of civil rights,″ the burly, shock-haired promoter said in an interview Monday after receiving an NAACP President’s Award at the group’s national convention. ``Even when I was hustling in the streets in my days with the numbers, I tried to do what was right for the community.

``Now I’m addicted to that disease called a better quality of life in this great country called America,″ King added. ``But I still give back to the community.″

In praising King, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume compared him to baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson and noted his efforts in gaining multimillion-dollar purses for black and Latino fighters.

He said that King, 66, who will be retried for insurance fraud later this month, has been the victim of selective prosecution by the government.

``I work hard and am well paid for it,″ King said. ``All I’m doing is emulating white businessmen. Don’t get mad at me for doing what they do.″

King wouldn’t discuss the latest controversy on his plate, the ear-biting incident and boxing license revocation of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, whom he manages.

A prepared statement he distributed said: ``I am not making excuses for Mike but I know him and I know that he’s a good human being.″

King contended his own legal problems are part of his ``persecution″ by authorities.

``If you fight for people, you’ve got to expect to be in the eye of the hurricane,″ King said. ``But you have to ask yourself why is the government always on my case. Yes, I believe it is a pattern of selective prosecution. If I was doing a fraction of what they say, I would have been locked up years ago.″

King has, in fact, seen the inside of a prison.

He was convicted of murder, a charge later reduced to manslaughter; faced numerous lawsuits from boxers and their handlers; and was acquitted on tax evasion charges in 1985.

The multimillionaire promoter has been the subject of at least three grand jury investigations and at least one FBI sting operation.

King and his company are to be tried in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where a jury two years ago deadlocked on charges that he cheated Lloyds of London of $350,000 in training expenses. If convicted, King could face up to 45 years in prison and a $2.2 million fine.

King said his donations to civil rights groups and the needy over the past 20 years probably totaled ``in the millions″ but added that the contributions had been largely unknown to many because ``I never looked for any fanfare on this.″

King said those who might believe he is simply trying to generate good publicity before his trial are misguided. ``Forgive them because they know not what they do,″ he said.

For the man who was inducted into boxing’s Hall of Fame earlier this year, King said the award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would hold special meaning for him.

``You’ve got to feel good when the civil rights people rally around you. It’s like a tidal wave. But I think some of them are thinking `there but for the grace of God go I.‴

Some in the audience Monday said they were surprised King got the award but did not object to the selection.

``I didn’t expect it but I have no problems with the man,″ said Ernest Berry of the Lynchburg, Va., NAACP branch.

Larry Johnson of the Anne Arundel County, Md., branch said King deserved the award because ``he opened the way for blacks in the top levels of sports.″

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