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Ring promoter King sues Disney/ESPN

January 13, 2005 10:28 IST

Promoter Don King, who built a boxing empire with the aid of hyperbole, bluster and spin, filed a $2.5 billion lawsuit on Wednesday against sports channel ESPN over a biography of him he said was defamatory.

The suit was filed in a Florida state court against Walt Disney Co., parent company of the cable sports network, ABC Cable Networks, ESPN, Inc., and Advocate Communications, Inc., the cable outlet that aired the "SportsCentury" profile of King in south Florida.

The eight-page suit says the May 14, 2004, showing of ESPN's biography segment on King defamed the boxing promoter and strung together false statements that "intentionally and recklessly portrayed Don King in a false light."

"The program they aired put me in a false light and slanted and twisted the truth," an unusually subdued King told a news conference at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

"There were a lot of outright falsehoods in that program. I felt this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I'm going to fight back. I'm going to stand up and fight for my rights."

No figure was listed in the court papers, but King issued a press release saying he was seeking $2.5 billion in damages.

ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said the cable network had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it, but he defended the biography series.

"'SportsCentury' is a Peabody and Emmy Award winning series of more than 250 biographies and is widely respected for its journalistic quality," he said.

The suit listed 10 statements it claimed were defamatory in the program including references to King's threatening to kill two different people.

It also cited references to King underpaying former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali by $1.2 million, short-changing fighters Larry Holmes and Meldrick Taylor and insinuated he failed to fork over a large sum of money to a hospital after a boxing benefit.

After making his opening remarks, the usually loquacious King, wearing an American-flag patterned tie under a dark business suit, deferred all comments to lawyer Willie Gary.

"They depicted this man as a thief that would take from a sick, run-down hospital in a black community," Gary said.

"The constitution gives the right of freedom of the press but it does not give the right to reckless journalism."

Gary said he had contacted ESPN last month to complain and the network refused to retract the offending elements.

King has been on the receiving end of court action in the past. He spent four years in prison after being convicted in 1967 of beating a man to death in Cleveland.

He was acquitted of tax evasion charges in 1985 and acquitted of insurance fraud in 1998.

Larry Fine in New York
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