Independent News
February 8, 2002

Roy, Fred & Friends

by DUWAYNE ESCOBEDO

MIAMI -- The last time I removed my double-breasted, Pierre Cardin blue blazer from mothballs, it had something to do with covering a congressional snoozer-of-a-hearing regarding the wisdom of doling out a few hundred mil to promote the use of space-age material, like Tang, for building government offices.

Nearly 10 years later, I found myself fretting like a prom date over whether my like-new jacket would pass as "festive cocktail" per instructions on the invitations sent to America's rich and famous.

And did I even own a pair of socks without holes in the toe or heel since I lacked the mandated "white-soled" shoes to wear aboard the 172-foot yacht playing host to a prefight party in Biscayne Bay?

Yep, my kingdom for some worthy toenail clippers.

How did I get in this tight spot? Well, I made a wisecrack about doing a puff piece on Roy Jones Jr. to an Independent Florida Sun editor. After all, the Pensacola native is only the best boxer on the planet, whooping every challenger since the Olympics in 1988, no matter what the "official" record says. I'm thinking a 15-minute phone interview with the champ and some reactions from adoring fans after Jones pounds that Aussie, Glen Kelly.

TO MIAMI ON PRIVATE JET

Next thing I know, my phone rings and a Levin Papantonio law firm secretary wants to fax me a six-page itinerary for attending Jones' "Superbrawl Saturday" in Miami. And who knows? Maybe I'll interview Jones after the fight flying back Sunday. According to the schedule, Jones would be jet setting with Johnnie Cochran, Fred Levin and a Sun journalist named me.

Beats driving.

I am told that I would be one of eight passengers on Levin Papantonio's private jet flying to South Beach on Friday. Along for the ride: retired congressman and soon-to-be political talk show host Joe Scarborough; air conditioning company magnate and close Levin pal "Uncle Bob" Williams; pre-Spurrier, Florida quarterback Larry Keefe; and one of the firm's top environmental litigators on the gazillion-dollar Conoco suit, Steve Medina.

Still beats driving.

I immediately plan stories on Jones, Levin Papantonio and Conoco. Oh, and my wife, Andrea, says to track down our Miami friends to take a few hundred shots of their new baby. "No problem, dear."

Levin pilots Paul and Ari deliver us safely to Miami, and all goes well except for a few bumps and some warm beer.

Once we're on the ground in Miami, a Ford Excursion quickly drives us away from the private jet and drops off most people at the Intercontinental Hotel where Levin occupies the two-story presidential suite on the 34th floor. Overlooking Biscayne Bay, Levin's suite has an unobstructed view toward South Beach.

By 5 p.m. Friday, America's most powerful lawyers begin making their way to Levin's suite to pay tribute to the Man and his Firm.

Ten years ago at a setting like this, Levin would be king in this setting, while his other partners and associates would be deemed little more than the king's court. But much has changed with the Levin firm since the old days in Seville Tower.

At this cocktail party, legal giants swarm Levin, Mike Papantonio, Mark Proctor, Troy Rafferty and the rest of the team. Hanging around these parties, it is easy to see that the lawyers first bow to Levin, then go to do business with Papantonio and his mass torts team.

Walking around the room, you overhear Pap closing a deal in New York, Proctor putting the finishing touches on bringing Johnnie Cochran into the firm's ever-growing network, Rafferty working the Texas connection, and Larry Morris talks to a San Francisco lawyer closing a multimillion deal on MCI. Scarborough appears to be the official floater, who laughs at a story told by two of New York's best-known lawyers.

Levin firm's Scott Milligan and Neil Overholtz work the bar and move plates that hold food the size of poodles.

The Firm is on top of the legal world, and its nest is Levin's penthouse suite.

By the way, I manage to get a room at the Marriott Biscayne with a working toilet and a balcony near the water. It comes with HBO and ESPN.

I'm set.

BEATING KEVIN BACON BY HALF

After the welcoming reception breaks up in Fred's suite, two buses with "MASS TORTS!" signs pull up to the Intercontinental. Soon they whisk Levin attorneys, their attorney guests and FOL's (Friends of Levin's) up I-95 toward Fort Lauderdale.

Theo Johns, a Florida law classmate of Martin Levin's, explains to me on the bus that the Levin degree of separation is half that of Kevin Bacon's.

Fifty minutes later, we pull up to Sheldon "Shelly" Schlesinger's Atlantic-front hacienda. Schlesinger is South Florida's legal powerhouse who worked with Levin on the tobacco deal. And tonight on this Atlantic estate I see what happened to some of that $12 billion settlement.

Two policeman direct traffic at the Schlesinger's. As waves roll in near the outdoor pavilion, a frequent Levin guest comments that the Spanish-type mansion gives Fred's sprawling estate a run for its money.

Schlesinger, with a Mick Jagger swagger about him, greets guests at the door borrowing a line from Pink: "Let's get this party started."

As beautiful, young Latin and Caribbean men and women serve trays of caviar, spicy tomatoes on crunchy bread, shrimp and other tasty but undecipherable treats, I bump into a friend of U.S. District Court Judge Lacey Collier. Though he dodges and parries my questions about the Frank Patti case, his mischievous smile gives a hint to Collier's reaction when he first learned about Patti's collision with a stationary, decorative choo-choo in Pensacola.

Meanwhile, by the beachfront pool, Phil Corboy, a legendary Chicago attorney who annihilated many of the top trial attorneys across America, attacks filet mignon and French fries. I talk to him about my visits to Chicago, while sports stars, legal dream teams and South Florida's most beautiful mill around Levin and his firm.

"NICE BARRACUDA!"

But by the time the last deal is done at Schlesinger's, few are in the mood to talk business on the return ride to Miami.

I'd love to talk about Conoco or some other explosive case Papantonio is working up in his brilliant brain, but all he wants to gab about is diving off Pensacola's waters.

The bus fills with laughter as Pap tells the story about the time he took partner Steve Echsner diving, and how Steve's shiny, bald head attracted gargantuan barracudas toward the diving team. Papantonio jokes that he considered slitting the top of his partner's head to divert attention, if things got rough down there.

All on the bus roar with laughter except Echsner's wife, Becky. My guess is Steve probably won't be diving with his friend Pap for a while.

Nothing's scheduled Saturday morning and afternoon. Lunching with newspaper buddies on South Beach, we count 27 Mercedes, 18 BMWs, three Bentley's and one Rolls Royce in an hour. The flock of sun worshippers are a walking billboard for plastic surgery. There might be another 2,000 breast implant cases here alone for the Levin firm to pad its more than $10 billion in total settlements.

At 5 p.m. sharp Saturday, the MASS TORTS! buses swing us to the Gallant Lady, a 172-foot yacht harbored in Biscayne Bay. The four-hour, prefight party rocks just a few blocks from AmericanAirlines Arena, the "Triple A," where Jones will entertain.

Launched in 2000 after four years in the making, the yacht features beautifully grained African Mahogany, sintilalante marble and verde lavaris granite. Despite its richness emphasized with a magnificent spiraling mahogany staircase, columns and appealing artwork, the yacht feels cozy and comfy. Best of all, my shoes pass inspection, and I don't have to leave them in a pile by the front entrance.

Laura Green, one of 10 crew members, gives us a tour. "Carpet from same craftsman that did the White House...Twin 1,100 horse-powered engines with enough fuel to cruise across to Spain...$10,000 for the master bedroom mattress...$175,000 to rent a week," is about all I heard. Dick Shapiro tells his Swedish model-looking wife he's ready to leave her for the Gallant Lady.

$40 MILLION AND A YACHT TO BOOT

Levin cleaned out the boat's owner, James Moran, for $40 million in Crestview in 1993. Levin represented Dr. Gerald Hollingsworth, owner of Quality Imports, who sued Moran's Southeast Toyota car distributor when it send hard-to-sell vehicles, like orange ones with a pea-green interior, because Hollingsworth's dealership refused to falsify vehicles sales reports.

Moran of Deerfield Beach is one of America's wealthiest men and a marketing genius who earned his fortune peddling Hudsons and Fords in Chicago.

Moran told Levin he could have a week on one of his yachts after levin won the trial. Since then, Moran has given Levin and other Levin attorneys several trips on his yachts. He refuses to take any money to host the Roy Jones Jr. prefight party.

Levin says he plans a "substantial" donation to one of Moran's favorite charities.

During the yacht experience, the sock-footed Levin and Cochran hobnob and pose for pictures for anyone pointing a camera, including the Sun's battery-sucking digital. Besides Cochran, the most popular subjects are the shrimp appearing on a square mahogany sofa table two plates at a time and disappearing faster than shark bait.

IS THAT O.J. BY BARRY BONDS?

Around an hour before Roy's 11 p.m. bout, we walk to the Triple A and sit down in the $250 seats about 30 yards to the right of the ring. The wild roar we learn is not for us but for O.J. Simpson clad in a yellow-knit T-shirt. "Juice, Juice, Juice," the crowd chants.

O.J.'s people called Levin's people to make sure Levin didn't mind sitting next to the acquitted murderer and football superstar in the front row at ringside. Throughout the fight, O.J. gets swarmed for photos, autographs, and in a new twist, cell phone requests.

"Hey, mom? Guess who I just met? O.J.! No, I'm not lying. Here, O.J."

Then O.J. dutifully gets on the phone and talks to mom.

The arena's big screens flash various superstars, such as homerun king Barry Bonds and some Miami Hurricane running back, but the screen snubs O.J. The Juice gives Cochran a bear hug when he arrives with Levin.

Only Roy Jones and the ring girls manage louder cheers than O.J. from the 8,000 Triple A fans. They also roar at the trash talking via satellite between Bernard Hopkins and Jones. Before his fight in Reading, Pa., Hopkins accuses Jones of pigging out on his pit bulls' dog food.

Even Levin is awed by his seatmates ringside, which also include All-Star baseball player Gary Sheffield and Miami Dolphin linebacker Zach Thomas.

"For a lil' ol' country boy like me, it was something else," he says afterwards. Although some say Levin is acting more nervous than usual during the weekend, Levin says he's calm.

If he is shaky, Roy allays any fears. During a trip to the locker room before the fight, Levin finds Jones listening to music from his new CD, "Round One," and appearing "without a worry in the world."

Sports writers questioned Jones' focus all week with so much going on in his life: the release of a CD slated for Feb. 26, which is already the No. 2 rap song on the charts; a rap performance at a South Beach club five days before the light heavyweight title defense; the unveiling of a new Jones bobblehead doll; and an upcoming role in the movie, "Matrix 2." If Jones' fighting career ends at the end of 2003 at the age of 34, as some speculate because of sore hands and boredom, he seems ready to make millions by singing, producing, acting and commentating.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH?

But on Saturday night Jones shows the Miami crowd why he may deserve "The Greatest" title. Fighting in silky red trousers and red shoes, his head weaves like a rooster's in the early rounds and seems to throw his undefeated challenger, an Australian garbage man, on his heels. Ever a showman, Jones mimics a belly dancer when Kelly lands a blow to the gut. During the fight, Jones winds up his fist, does a couple skips and hops toward Kelly, and the greatest boxer in the game winks at the greatest homerun hitter in the game.

In the ultimate act of boxing superiority -- the equivalent of a 360-degree jam by Michael Jordan at the buzzer -- Jones puts both hands behind his back on the ropes and juts his chin out in the 7th round. Kelly takes the bait and throws two jabs that Jones ducks. Then in the blink of an eye, Jones throws a sweeping right hook that catches Kelly on the left side of his temple. Fight over. Knockout.

Boarding Levin's jet the next morning, Jones appears in the lobby wearing a matching Tar Heel-blue trunks, T-shirt and floppy hat. I have a half minute to pose a few questions but can't get near him. Besides, what's Jones going to say? A few lines from "King Lear?"

"There goes the world's greatest boxer," someone shouts in my ear. "And the way he finished that fight last night proves it!"

Levin sums up Jones' performance after the fight: "Unbelievable. What a show!"

On this Super Bowl Sunday, I watch the fleet of lawyers' jets take off into the South Florida sky, and I think the same of the Levin firm's production over our fast and furious few days in Miami. What a show!

As we walk toward our plane, the smell of jet fuel and hot pavement hits me as Jones' private jet slowly taxies away.

Still thinking the weekend couldn't get much better when we touch down in Pensacola, I spot golf great Lee Trevino. But that's another story.

BREAKOUT:

Roy Jones Jr. Speaks Out

Some newspaper reporters fill several notepads during interviews with the Pensacola boxing champion. Here's what Jones -- who owns an 88-acre spread with more than 1,700 roosters and chickens, a stable of show horses, a pack of dogs and one prize-rodeo bull -- had to say in recent weeks.

ON RESPECT: As long as you're the best, be the best, and that's what I'm trying to do. I was trained to go out there and methodically outmaneuver my opponent and beat him up. What they want to see, they're not going to get. I'm not Rocky Balboa. I'm not Oscar De La Hoya. I'm not Sugar Shane Mosley. I'm Roy Jones.

ON RETIREMENT: I won't get my just due until I am long gone. I have done pretty much everything I wanted to do in this sport. It would be interesting to fight for a heavyweight championship. But I am happy with what I have done. When you are at ease with yourself, you are able to utilize all your gifts and fulfill your purpose in life.

ON HIS HANDS: My hands aren't healthy at all. There are a lot of times where I get a guy in a pretty good situation, and I've got to chill out. I could knock out a lot of them, but then my hands would be broke up so bad I wouldn't be able to fight anymore. I can't do that.

ON NEW RAP CD AND HIT SONG: (Jones' single, "That Was Then," hit No. 2 in the Billboard hip-hop chart. It's off his coming CD "Round One, the Album.") This proves once again I can do more than one thing. I am not one-dimensional. If my music goes the way I want it to, I won't be in this (boxing) much longer. (Boxing) is a dirty sport. You can hear my frustration through my music. All the things I've had caught up inside me for the last few years, they'll be coming out on my CD.

ON HIS ROOSTERS: I've loved roosters since I was 5. I like watching them fight. They fight for attention. I watch the moves they make and figure out what makes one better than the other. They taught me a lot about boxing. What people don't understand is I'm trying to give them the best chance they have. It's a sport. It's not cruel. I never want to see any of my roosters die.

ON BEING A ROLE MODEL: I'm not controversial and people don't like that. I have a good heart. I am a human being. There's no negativity around me. I haven't raped anybody. I'm not trying to be a tough guy. That's not what the sport is all about. I owe it to God to be a role model.

ON WOMEN'S BOXING: More women should consider it.

Sources: The New York Times, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, royjonesjr.com

 

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