Sugar Ray Leonard's rise from Palmer Park to the top of the boxing world is part of almost everyone's dream in the small, working man's community in central Prince George's County. But when he hung up his gloves last night still a champion, Palmer Park remained solidly in his corner.

Almost everyone in the street last night seemed to know Ray Leonard, who got the nickname "Sugar" after he left the community of close-spaced homes.

And everyone felt that the welterweight champion, always a symbol of industry and hard work, had made the right choice by retiring six months after undergoing eye surgery.

"He doesn't have anything to prove and I don't see where he needs the money," said Greg Davis, 23, a fledgling professional boxer himself. Tradition and Leonard's example have made the sport supremely popular in the predominantly black community.

"He's a hero to me," said Davis, who went to Parkdale High School with Leonard. "I wish he'd turn coach and train me. That gym across the street could use a good coach," he added, referring to the spanking new boxing gym, not yet opened, that Leonard recently furnished for the neighborhood.

Word of Leonard's retirement, announced at the Baltimore Civic Center, spread quickly in Palmer Park. Outside Dave's Liquor Store, Supper Club and Lounge on George Palmer Highway, a group of longtime Palmer Park residents was exultant.

"He's not supposed to pay boxing. Boxing should pay to him now," said Nick Nichols, 40, who now lives in Glenarden, the town next to Palmer Park.

"He gave everybody a chance, barring none," Nichols added.

"When he quit, it was the best move in the world," said Bruce Harris, "because the first thing any fighter would do is go for the eye."

"I love him. I don't see why he should go on," said Herman Nichols, 27, who grew up with Leonard and the champ's wife Juanita in Palmer Park.

"I think he should stay a legend," said Vance Harris, 35, of Glenarden. "Right now, he's an undisputed legend. We've had so many legends, then we have to sit back and watch them be abused," he said, recalling the later careers of Joe Louis and Muhammed Ali.

"Let Leonard be a first. Let Leonard be different. It makes me feel so good," Harris said.