By Leonard Pitts Jr.
So, how much do you need?
Would a million do it for you? Could you get by on 10? A hundred? How about $400 million in cash?
It is, of course, the all-American daydream. We’ve all had it, all stood in the shower or driven down the highway mentally spending some obscene pile of money that falls from the sky. Me, I figure I’d tithe 10 percent, invest 10 percent, then go shopping for a modest little Caribbean island with a helipad.
Or not. The dream changes a little every time. But one I know for absolutely, positively dead certain: Give me $400 million today, and I won’t turn up bankrupt 20 years from now.
Which is, of course, what just happened to Mike Tyson. He filed Chapter 11 last week, saying he was unable to pay his debts. This, despite earning $300 million or $400 million — published reports disagree — in the last 20 years.
Not that anybody is shocked. “Iron” Mike has long seemed a determined throwback to that generation of boxers who ended up used up, broken up and flat broke. His was a habit of profligate spending that, even by the standards of excess seemed, well … excessive. I mean, he makes Michael Jackson look like a bargain hunter.
A report in The New York Times has Tyson spending $230,000 over two years on cell phones and beepers. Think about that for a moment. Nearly a quarter-million dollars for cell phones and pagers.
And that doesn’t include the costs of purchasing and maintaining his multiple mansions, his Bentleys, his Bengal tigers. Far be it for me, who can barely balance his checkbook, to advise a rich man — a formerly rich man, anyway — how to spend his money. Still, one does not have to ponder Tyson’s predicament very long before one gets the sense that he was trying to buy something more than mere things.
At the risk of engaging in the instant and unlicensed psychoanalysis for which we newspaper scribes are deservedly reviled: Am I the only one who suspects Mike Tyson’s problem is and always has been the fact that, at some level, he just doesn’t like Mike Tyson all that much? Hasn’t that been the subtext, sometimes even the spoken rationale, for all the transgressions of his life? For the rape conviction, the stupid street fights, the remarks about hitting women and making them bleed during sex, the threat to eat Lennox Lewis’ children, the bite he took out of Evander Holyfield’s ear? For the whining, the cunning, the moments of lucid remorse, the other moments, many other moments, when he seemed to revel in making himself bestial?
All of which we have watched — and enabled — with a morbid fascination, increasingly drawn to him not for some display of the so-called “sweet science” but simply to see what bizarre thing he will do or say next.
Mike Tyson is a sick and pitiable man whose sickness and pitiableness have been our entertainment for many years. And now, for him at least, the bill comes due.
One gets the sense that he thought he could spend his way to something better. That through his possessions and purchases, through a $400,000 birthday party or a $173,000 gold chain, he could somehow become something he has not been in many years. A person worthy of people’s respect.
It doesn’t work that way, though. The beliefs of the bling-bling generation aside, respect is not something you can find on a balance sheet or purchase on Rodeo Drive. Its evil twin deference, maybe. But not respect.
For that, you have to put in the effort. For that, you have to make yourself deserving. Respect is earned.
That’s something Tyson never did, maybe never could, understand. Now the party’s over. He’s well on his way to becoming another beat-up old used-to-be, and news of his financial distress comes as a sadness but hardly a surprise.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: