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WHO OWNS THE KING?

June 13, 1988
June 13, 1988

Table of Contents
June 13, 1988

Books
NBA Playoffs
Mike Tyson
Mini Marathon
America's Cup
Sabonis
Track & Field
The Missing Links
First Person
Point After

WHO OWNS THE KING?

In the aftermath of Jimmy Jacobs's death, many are hungering for a piece of Mike Tyson

The day they Buried Jimmy Jacobs, a clear, sunny March afternoon in Los Angeles, was the day the struggle began for the body. Not Jacobs's body, of course, which will rest just beyond an off-ramp of the San Diego Freeway. The fight crowd had flown in from New York for the funeral of the legendary fight manager—so many of them traversing the country at once that some had been reduced to flying coach—and as the mourners sat in the packed chapel at the Hillside Memorial Park cemetery, several of them could not take their eyes off the thickly muscled figure seated in the front row, wiping tears from his eyes throughout the 45-minute service.

This is an article from the June 13, 1988 issue Original Layout

The world had changed suddenly for Mike Tyson, the 21-year-old heavyweight champion, and it had become a less friendly place. Jacobs had been Tyson's friend as well as his comanager. But the body that the vultures were beginning to circle was Tyson's.

Until three months ago, Tyson had never taken much notice of his business affairs. Cus D'Amato, Tyson's mentor, surrogate father and, for most of his teenage years, legal guardian, had succeeded in keeping Mike's mind clear of anything that would divert his attention from his next fight. When D'Amato died in November of 1985, the shepherding of the champion's career passed smoothly to Jacobs, D'Amato's longtime business partner. But with Jacobs's death at the age of 58, things began to change very quickly.

In February, after a year's courtship, Tyson had married actress Robin Givens, one of the stars of a television series called Head of the Class. A month later he was a pallbearer at Jacobs's funeral. Tyson still had a management contract with Jacobs's partner. Bill Cayton, but the two were not close. When Cayton tried to pull Tyson into the cold bosom of his embrace, he was shocked to find that other suitors had already begun their tinny seductions. Cayton quickly found himself in a struggle for control of Tyson's career not only with Don King, the shock-follicled fabulist and self-promoter, but also with Tyson's bride and—of all people—her mother, Ruth Roper. "If my partner hadn't died," says Cayton, "a lot of the problems we've had would never have happened."

The struggle for Tyson's body and his soul has been going on for two months, and with only 2½ weeks left before he faces Michael Spinks in Atlantic City in the most difficult bout of his life, there has been no sign of its letting up. Tyson's handlers have tried to sequester him from what they refer to as the "distractions" that have been occupying his thoughts. But from his camp in the Cats-kills there were rumblings of "explosions" and the fighter's "threatening to walk out on the fight" every time some new shred of gossip about the ardors of his inner circle emerged.

By the first effulgence of spring, everyone in Tyson's orbit seemed to be professing his or her undying love for someone else in the entourage. Love was everywhere, and people were slinging it so freely you needed boots just to walk around in the stuff. Mike loved Robin (and, of course, Ruth); Robin loved Mike (and, of course, Ruth); and, of course, Ruth loved Robin (and, uh, Mike). Presumably, with all this adoration around, the couple was reluctant to spoil the mood by drafting a prenuptial agreement, preferring instead to go the more traditional till-death-do-us-part route. "Michael said if I ever divorced him, he'd kill me," Givens told PEOPLE shortly after returning from her honeymoon, her heart still mantled with the sticky sweet dew of love.

Love has no greater fool than one whose affections are inflamed by the prospect of a financial killing. So it was not long before King was struck by cupidity's arrow and began wooing Tyson's bride and his mother-in-law, hoping to convince them that, as Tyson's new manager, he would love the champ in a way Cayton could not. Over the years King has been sued by many fighters, all of whom alleged that similar romances ended badly when, they said. King did not pay them what he had promised. Most of these suits have been settled out of court, though at least one case, that of heavyweight Tim Witherspoon, is still pending. But in an interview with an Albany, N.Y., television station, Cayton said, "King is winning Tyson with the theory that blacks should stick together. Black trainer, black manager, black promoter, black, black, black."

King's heart was so full of the perfume of his troth that he stood up at a Tyson-Spinks press conference in April and referred to Cayton as "the man I love," causing Cayton, who was standing on the same dais, to recoil in horror. King later amended his judgment of Cayton slightly in the New York Post, referring to him as a "vicious, lying SOB." But a lovable vicious, lying SOB.

King then flew to Los Angeles to spend several days courting Tyson, Robin and Ruth, and Cayton realized for the first time just how precarious was his hold on Tyson's affections. "When Jim died, I wasn't that close to Mike personally," Cayton says. "And now there are people who want to get their clutches on him, beginning with Don King. He's been spending all his time the last three months wooing Mike, and he's made problems for us, a lot of static."

After his March 21 fight with Tony Tubbs in Tokyo, Tyson split his time between Los Angeles, where Givens was filming a made-for-TV movie, and their newly purchased mansion in Bernardsville, N.J., which his mother-in-law helped pick out. This $4.5 million palace is referred to by some members of Tyson's entourage as the House That Ruth Built, although rarely within smiting distance of Tyson.

While he and Robin (and, of course, Ruth) were on their way home to New Jersey from Manhattan in the morning hours of May 8, Tyson swerved his $180,000 silver Bentley convertible into a parked car. Depending on whose story you believe, he was either attempting to avoid hitting a stray cat or being hit by his wife. According to several accounts, Tyson and Robin were quarreling, and when she began slapping him, he lost control of the car. (The story was denied by Givens's publicist, Karen Samfilippo, the same woman who declared Givens's pregnancy "not official yet," even though Tyson was widely boasting about his impending fatherhood.)

What is known is that Tyson got out of the car, surveyed the wreckage, and when two police officers appeared, offering assistance, told them they could have the Bentley. "I've had nothing but bad luck and accidents with this car," he said. The two cops, Dana Bratton and Stephen Barnes, demurred at first, but they eventually accepted the keys to the Bentley and stashed the car overnight in a Jersey City garage, only to be brought up on departmental charges when word of the curious episode leaked out a few days later.

Before meeting Tyson in Los Angeles in early '87, Givens's only previous experience with fighters was being punched out once by actress Holly Robinson of 21 Jump Street for making a rude remark about Robinson's mother. Givens, a 1984 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., dated both Eddie Murphy and Michael Jordan before she decided to pursue an acting career. For a while she told interviewers that her determination to become an actress forced her to make the painful decision to drop out of Harvard Medical School. Recently, however, somebody got around to checking with Harvard and discovered that Robin had never been enrolled at the med school.

Roper, who owns a Manhattan data processing consulting firm, had also made the acquaintance of at least one athlete before her daughter wed the heavyweight champion. Last week it was revealed that New York Yankee slugger Dave Winfield had settled a suit with Roper in which she accused him of giving her an undisclosed sexually transmitted disease three years ago. Winfield denies the charge.

Givens and her mother persuaded Tyson to order Cayton to show them the books, and Roper's lawyer, Michael Winston, sent Cayton a letter demanding to be shown a full accounting of Tyson's fortune. Cayton found the letter insulting because it seemed to imply that he had exploited Tyson for personal gain. "It was the kind of letter that we received, the tone of it," he says.

Cayton showed the letter to Tyson, who insisted that he hadn't authorized it. Cayton then took Tyson to his accountant's office and let the fighter pore over ledgers for several hours. When Tyson dropped his manager off at Grand Central Station that night, according to Cayton, "Mike said, 'Bill, I'm happy with what you're doing. As long as I fight, you're my manager.' " Yet Tyson was not so trusting that he wasn't interested in soliciting a second opinion.

"Bill Cayton showed me figures in the accountant's books," Tyson told The New York Times, "but I'm not that sophisticated to comprehend. So I said to myself, Don King knows what's going on. But by no means do I trust Don King."

Tyson wasn't sure whom he could trust. "All the leeches are out," Tyson's trainer, Kevin Rooney, told the Times. "People are putting pressure on him, but he's got to go through this sooner or later." It was Tyson's own brainstorm to tell one interviewer that he was thinking of packing up and moving to Monaco, where his income would at least be sheltered against taxes. But when it was explained to him that to become a subject of Monaco he would have to renounce his U.S. citizenship, Tyson decided instead to go back to Jersey and sulk. But not to train.

When Jacobs and D'Amato were alive, Tyson trained for every bout with monkish zeal, reportedly adhering to D'Amato's strict prefight dictum of celibacy. Now, on the eve of the biggest fight of his career, his priorities have clearly changed. "It's the power of the woman," Tyson's assistant manager, Steve Lott, told Newsday, a New York metropolitan-area daily. "He's obsessed with her."

Tyson didn't go into training for the Spinks fight until late last month, and he showed up weighing 237 pounds, nearly 20 pounds more than his normal fighting weight. "Of course, he was distracted," says Cayton. "He couldn't begin his training because he was with his wife. We wanted him to start training at the beginning of May so he would get in six or seven weeks of work, but he was out in California with his wife. She wanted him to spend extra time with her, so he couldn't train. Of course, that was distracting, but she's his wife."

Cayton is ill at ease having his stewardship of Tyson questioned by a willful 23-year-old woman (and, of course, her willful mid-40ish mother). Though Cayton has described his relationship with Robin as "perfectly good." when he is first asked about her in an interview, he says. "I don't have any comment about that." Cayton has denied that he argued strenuously against the marriage—which Tyson and Givens apparently undertook on a whim after watching the NBA All-Star Game together in Chicago last February—but he remains watchful. "Mike is in love." Cayton has reportedly said, "and the woman he is in love with has ideas."

Tyson doesn't seem to care what her ideas are, as long as they are attended to. "I love my wife more than anything," Tyson told Phil Berger of the Times. "Other men want their wives in the shadows. I'm not working that way. Everybody's making a big issue about my wife asking about what I've made. If my wife asks something, just give her what she wants. Look, if she asked for every dollar in my account. I'd give it to her. No questions asked."

That is what some people are worried about, though a lot of this gnashing of teeth on Tyson's behalf is undoubtedly part and parcel of the often hostile attitude toward women that has kept boxing a closed order of men for decades. No one can fault Tyson for wanting to take control of the disposition of his already vast fortune. He is guaranteed at least $20 million for the Spinks fight, and with his HBO contract, he is among the wealthiest TV entertainers in the country, just behind Bill Cosby and Johnny Carson. The struggle for Tyson's heart and mind will reap someone—possibly even Tyson, if he can figure out in time who his friends are—a fortune.

In 1984, when Tyson was just 18, he signed a seven-year contract with Jacobs and Cayton that guarantees the comanagers 33% of his earnings, both in and out of the ring. It was the standard cut for fight managers. D'Amato, who adopted Tyson when Mike was released into his care from reform school, cosigned the contract as Tyson's legal guardian. D'Amato received close to half a million dollars from Jacobs and Cayton just to cover Tyson's expenses.

"I would do everything possible to make Mike Tyson happy with what I'm doing." Cayton says, "but a manager is a manager, and whether a contract is with the heavyweight champ or a nonentity, a contract must be honored. Contracts are the foundation upon which our society is built. I have gone to court before to make fighters honor their contracts with me, but I don't think it will ever get to that point with Mike. I want my contracts fulfilled. I insist on it."

Cayton is a nattily turned out 69-year-old man, deeply tanned, with glasses and silvering hair. If he loses Tyson to King or some other swain, it will probably be because he cannot seem to stop thinking of Tyson as a commodity he can sell. "Mike was a manufactured attraction, a promoted attraction," Cayton says. "He's an electric attraction, but he could not have done it without promotion, and I negotiated those deals." Jacobs provided the leavening influence of friendship that balanced Cayton's ego. "Only I could have made this deal, literally." Cayton says of the Spinks bout. "Without me this fight could never have taken place."

"There is no way I'm thinking of double-crossing Bill Cayton." Tyson said in April. "Nothing's changed. I don't know why he feels threatened. Bill sounds like he's worried I'm going to leave. I'm not a rat fink or a traitor."

But things have changed, and they will change again. Two weeks ago Cayton's assistant, Lott, was told he had been dismissed from the entourage because he had fallen into disfavor with Robin (and, of course, Ruth). Cayton was able to reinstate Lott, who learned his lesson so well that last week he refused to allow a reporter who wanted to ask Tyson about all the distractions even to speak to him. "I don't want to have a situation where you ask him about his family and he smacks you in the face." Lott said.

Even Rooney, the longtime trainer who is a holdover from the D'Amato days, was reported to have imperiled his position with Tyson when he called Givens and her mother and politely suggested that they stop interfering in things about which they know nothing. And on the flight back from the Tubbs fight in Tokyo, Cayton reportedly confronted Givens and told her to stop trying to meddle in the business of managing the fighter. The argument ended with Givens in tears. "As long as Mike sticks to his career and Robin sticks to hers," Cayton has said, "everything will work out fine."

Just how fine, however, won't be known until June 27.

PHOTOLORI GRINKER/DUOMOThe women in Tyson's life, Robin (left) and Ruth, have insisted that the champ's managers account for every cent of his millions.PHOTOLORI GRINKER/CONTACT PRESS IMAGES[See caption above.]PHOTOKEN REGAN/CAMERA 5King (right) has said that he loves Cayton, but the two don't exactly see eye to eye.PHOTOJOHN IACONOJacobs provided both guidance and affection.PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANNTyson gave away his Bentley, but he still had a Rolls in the driveway of his new mansion.PHOTORONALD C. MODRACayton's complaint is that while Spinks pounds the leather at his training retreat...PHOTOLORI GRINKER/DUOMO...the champion is too caught up in being bicoastal with Robin.