Promoter takes issue with SportsCentury piece

Updated: January 13, 2005, 4:22 PM ET news services

NEW YORK -- Boxing promoter Don King filed a defamation suit Wednesday claiming he was portrayed in a false light in an ESPN SportsCentury segment aired last May, and his attorney said King is entitled to damages of more than $2.5 billion.

The lawsuit says the program accused King of being "a snake oil salesman, a shameless huckster and worse," claimed the flamboyant promoter underpaid Muhammad Ali by $1.2 million and claimed King -- convicted in a 1967 beating death and acquitted in another killing in 1954 -- "killed not once, but twice."

Most of the material in the program had been printed or broadcast earlier about King, who has spent much of his career in court, but he said he had just had enough.

"I just felt that this was the straw that broke the camel's back and I can't take it anymore, and I'm going to fight back," King said at a news conference. "I seek justice."

King, wearing a garish American flag tie and two flag lapel pins, then quietly stepped back and let lawyer Willie Gary answer questions.

Gary called the SportsCentury segment "a story designed to orchestrate and create an impression that is not there," and said the network had refused to retract parts of the program that offended King.

The suit, filed in state court in Broward County, Fla., names ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney Co., among the defendants. Also named are Disney-owned ABC Cable Networks, which actually controls ESPN, and Advocate Communications, a Florida-based cable and satellite system.

"We aren't going to comment on pending litigation," said Mike Soltys, ESPN's vice president of communications.

The suit also says SportsCentury accused King of threatening to break the legs of heavyweight Larry Holmes and of cheating boxer Meldrick Taylor out of $1 million from a fight and then threatening to have Taylor killed.

"It was slanted to show Don in the worst way. It was one-sided from day one," Gary said. "Don is a strong man, but he has been hurt by this."

King has represented fighters from Ali to Mike Tyson, and has been sued by several of them -- including a $100 million lawsuit filed against him by Tyson. King paid $7.5 million to former middleweight champion Terry Norris in late 2003 to settle a suit. King sued former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis for libel.

King was charged with federal tax evasion and fraud but was not convicted. He served nearly four years in prison for the 1967 beating death of a man who owed him money. In 1954, he killed a man who was robbing a numbers house he operated in Cleveland, but it was ruled self-defense.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.