They call this the ESPN New York Hall of Fame, don't they?
Not the ESPN New York Hall of Achievement, or the New York Hall of Good Guys Who Had Great Stats.
Anyone arguing the merit of Mike Tyson's inclusion, or opining that he has no place in our Hall, will have their own criteria for who should be in the Hall. Usually, statistics will be cited, longevity rewarded, character possibly thrown into the mix.
Tyson, in two of those categories, comes up short. His prime wasn't all that lengthy, and as for character, well, he was one. But after a rape conviction, most would argue he lacked the virtue in bucketfuls. So I can't hammer anyone who thinks Whitey Ford or Patrick Ewing should've beaten out Tyson for a Hall spot.
But I'm sorry, Whitey and Patrick backers -- Mike Tyson, "Kid Dynamite," the man formerly known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet," darn well deserves to be in the ESPN New York Hall of Fame.
"Iron" Mike is a no-brainer.
Perhaps he's a no-brainer for me because my criteria includes -- hello? -- he's a New Yorker. Born in Bed-Stuy, fashioned in the pitbull-eat-pitbull streets of Brownsville, Tyson was and is a New York story. He was mugging people and sticking up stores at age 11.
And then he was saved, you could argue, when he found boxing, while he was in reform school in upstate New York. Hey, shouldn't the New York Hall reflect the city, the state, the traits that make it the capital of the world, as much as possible?
We forget, because our attention spans have withered, but Mike Tyson, in his prime -- when he was a whirling dervish of vicious intent, blasting out sacrificial lambs like they owed him money and had insulted his mom -- was the man.
There was no dreary talk of "boxing is dead" when this wunderkind of controlled violence was at his peak, circa 1986-1989. Up until the time he went off the rails in the ring, against Buster Douglas, on Feb. 11, 1990 -- and he had been sliding off the rails mentally, emotionally and spiritually for arguably most his life to that point -- Tyson was at the tip-top of the most well-known athletes the world over. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated in January 1986, at age 19, after 15 pro fights. Tyson cemented his fame on Nov. 22, 1986, when at age 20 he beat 32-year-old Trevor Berbick, the WBC heavyweight champion, to become the youngest heavyweight titlist in history.
You want stats? That one has to stand out to you. What were you doing at age 20?
Longevity lovers who prefer guys with 20-year careers at All-Star levels sneer that Tyson, in his last bout, on June 11, 2005, lost to Kevin McBride, who resembles a Boston bar bouncer more than he does a top-echelon pugilist. I'd counter that there is no sport harder to achieve longevity in than boxing. If the brain pan-rattling punches don't do you in, the inevitable beefs with "trusted" management and even family will sap your desire to stay focused on the prize.
Now, you'll not hear me dismiss Tyson's dark side. His 1992 rape conviction is a deep, dark stain on his moral resume that cannot be erased. Character does matter to me. But I don't support the system our society has set up in which we look to athletes as role models to the degree that they are.
And it's easier for me to lobby for him to get a Hall spot as I marvel -- yes, marvel -- at the Mike Tyson of today. The man who once said, "I try to catch him right on the tip of the nose because I try to push the bone into the brain," is happily married, a vegan who doesn't want to contribute to the world's suffering by eating animals who have been callously slaughtered and, all in all, is a potent example for any who are caught in the darkness and wondering if they can climb their way out.
For having clawed his way out of a hellish youth, achieving majestic athletic feats, surviving in this tabloid era of journalism, and for not allowing fame to totally consume him, Mike Tyson deserves a spot in the ESPN New York Hall of Fame.