Apart from the rigorous training and demanding discipline undertaken by young Ray Leonard to reach his first ultimate dream -- the Olympic boxing finals -- the rise of the welterweight champion and his vast financial empire began on the eve of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when Roone Arledge, head of ABC sports, called Howard Cosell to ask if "we had a fighter with a unique personality." Cosell recommended Leonard, and consequently the television cameras followed on prime time the fighter's swift hands, fast feet and brilliant smile. Overnight, he was center stage, and his talents rewarded ABC's calculated gamble when he won the gold medal. He had not reached this apex without sacrifice: "I didn't party. I didn't run the streets, I didn't vacation at the beach. There were no late hours."
Yet within days of the Olympics the balloon of success exploded when The Washington Star reported on its front page that the Olympic hero had been named in a paternity suit. Though Leonard would eventually marry Juanita, the mother of his child, would become wealthy and would proudly display Ray Jr. to the world, it was during those dark days immediately following Montreal that Sugar Ray grew from an optimistic boy to a determined man outside the ring. It is this part of the story that Alan Goldstein tells best in "A Fistful of Sugar," though it could easily have been told better had he devoted more space to it.
It is odd that a book promoted on its cover as "The Sugar Ray Leonard Story" should devote better than 80 percent of its pages to Leonard's preparation for his fights with Wilfredo Benitez, Roberto Duran and pugilists of a lesser stature. And it is disappointing that the book is based almost entirely on information easily gleaned from the sports pages. I wished for some commentary on, and analysis of, the tightening circle of personalities surrounding the champion as his wealth and popularity ate away at his optimism. Of particular interest is the case of Dave Jacobs, Sugar Ray's first mentor, who was released as his trainer. Questions remain about the impact of Jacobs' departure on Leonard, who has appeared on occasion to be quite sensitive. It is also curious that black promoter Don King, archrival of the Leonard camp and supporter of Duran, is treated by Goldstein as the lone villain in a sport long infested with corrupt and opportunistic individuals. A dyed-in-the-wool Leonard admirer, Goldstein is unable or unwilling to explore the motivations of any of the central characters in the champion's cast. He is too close to the phenomenon of Sugar Ray to write a balanced and credible account of his subject. But it is doubtful that such a book was ever his intention.
"A Fistful of Sugar" is lively, fast-paced and designed to appeal to that ocean of people with an insatiable appetite for the champion. Had the story told less of fight preparations and more of Leonard's personal life and what happens when, in a bold stroke, empty pockets give way to an enormous fistful of dollars, it would have been of value to a more diverse audience.
Arthur Ashe's autobiography, "Off the Court," is a searching, honest and candid account of tennis' first black superstar. Winner of the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and numerous other titles and, in retirement, captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, Ashe takes us back to the segregated world of his birthplace, Richmond, Va., in the 1940s and '50s. Terribly affected during childhood by the death of his mother and raised by a determined father and extended family, young Arthur dedicated his life to excelling in the elite white world of championship tennis. Well aware that he was growing up in an environment where he was "a Negro, colored, black, a coon, a pickaninny, a nigger and other less flattering terms," Ashe responded not with protest, but with service aces, down-the-line backhands and victories over white opponents.
Taken under the wings of the legendary Dr. Robert Johnson, a black tennis teacher in Lynchburg, Va., Ashe developed well enough to earn a scholarship to UCLA. It was at UCLA that he first discovered how the country club world of tennis had removed him not only in body but also in style and cultural preference from the black community. This is crucial to understanding Arthur Ashe as he attempts to find his way into a world that is neither black nor white.
On the court, Ashe was the model of self-control and restraint, but one wonders what price he paid for concealing his emotions. When his grandmother died in 1972, he broke down "and emotions poured out of me, totally out of control. I cried like a baby for several minutes. When it was over, I was drained of tensions I didn't know had been inside." It is this intense search for self that sets the tone for "Off the Court."
Like other autobiographies, this book is used as a platform to respond to the major public questions about Ashe. For instance, while at UCLA in the turbulent '60s, when he was already a public figure, many wondered why he was not more outspoken on the race issues. "I was geographically isolated at UCLA," he writes. "There weren't too many blacks that live in that section of Los Angeles . . . so my life centered around life at UCLA." It is interesting that basketball player Lewis Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) would matriculate during the same period and respond so differently to the issues despite the handicap of geographical isolation.
"Off the Court" is a no-holds-barred account of Ashe's life. It leaves absolutely no doubt where he stands on important issues, whether his position is popular or not. Blessed with a better-than-average mind, Ashe is decidedly more than an athlete and has since childhood wanted the world to know just that. "Off the Court" warrants a standing ovation for a display of guts and courage rarely seen in a sports autobiography. It deserves to be read by anyone interested in Afro-American culture or in sports.