There is no riddle of the Spinks.
The new heavyweight champion's life is as self-evident as the gap where his two front teeth were punched out.
When Leon Spinks needs to reach to the roots of his boxing fury, he thinks of the father who separated from a wife and seven children, leaving for a legacy the burning words, "You'll never be nothin'."
Spinks, the oldest of the seven, felt responsible for the brood and routinely came to school unfed.
"Leon would say, 'I left home early so the little ones would feel free to eat,'" recalls one of Spinks' teachers, Charles Sleigh.
"I've seen Leon many a day have school doughnuts and water from the fountain as breakfast and lunch.
"I wouldn't mention his father's name to him for anything," says Sleigh. "I couldn't watch his face."
Spinks, a scrawny child prone to low blood pressure and blackouts, recalls his father bitterly, telling how the old man would hang him from a nail and swat him across the face with a cord, or call him a fool.
The father now appears occasionally at the fights of his famous son. "Just shows up sometimes," says Spinks' mother.
When Spinks needs that final push on his predawn training runs, he only needs to think of the North St. Louis projects called Pruitt-Igoe and Darst-Webbe where he was raised.
The Pruitt-Igoe residence was blown up after the city condemned it.
Of the apartment in Darst-Webbe where Spinks lived for 10 years, next-door neighbor Delzora Lenior says, "When you're raised in a place like this, all you can think of is get out.
"Leon dropped out of school because it was more dangerous to go to Vashon High with the riots and the teachers getting beat up than it was to stay home."
"I think Leon beat Ali because he was just sick and tired of the vermin around here," says another neighbor, Ozell Johnson.
When Spinks asks himself, "Why do I fight?" he only needs to look in the mirror, or listen to his own speech, for an answer. He has been ignorance of poverty.
"You've got to force every word out of Leon," says Sleigh, who was his remedial-education teacher. "He's proud, and he hates to make a mistake and have people laugh at him."
All that, and much more brother awaits trial for assault with intent to kill - make up the mountain of suppressed anger that feeds Spinks the fighter.
On the other hand, sustaining Spinks the man - making him a person described as generous, thoughtful of others, sensitive, disciplined, shy, playful - is a remarkable family life built on a rock of a mother, Kay Spinks.
"His mother is one in a thousand," says Vashon principal Cozy Marks who has seen almost all the Spinks clan. "Strong on goals, and self-pride, and religion.
"That precious woman has had to come into this office so many times. But she never blames the school. She just says, 'I know my boys don't always follow the rules. I try to make a good world for them at home. And you do the same here. But in between we have to turn them over to that other world.'"
When Kay Spinks' boys were beaten and robbed of their food-money as small children, she did the job of her long-gone husband, chasing down the young bullies and whupping them herself.
"That story is told now as a funny Mama Spinks anecdote, the perfect one-liner about the little woman at ringside with the Bible in her lap. But it was never funny.
Another story, however - that the Spinks brothers, Leon and Michael, had to fight to survive - is no tall tale.
"The Spinks boys and a friend or two formed their own little protective unit," recalls principal Marks. They never picked on others, but by the time the Spinkses got to high school, I never heard of anybody bothering them.
"We try to teach our students to resolve conflicts other than through bullets," says Marks. "But I have to admit, our kids have to fight to survive . . . Anything wrong that's happened in this city, it's happened in Darst-Webbe."
The only enigma about Spinks is how he could rise from this rubble so relatively clean.
"Leon's not a smart person," says Sleigh. "He's a nice person. You could leave him in your office for an hour and he'd never get into anything.
"I'm afraid he'll get tangled up with characters who aren't as honest as he is."
"People don't really understand Leon. He looks like the worst man in the world," says Spinks' best Marine Corps buddy. Cpl. Tony Santana. "He's gentle, thoughtful.
"It got a call the day after the fight. It was Leon. I couldn't believe it. He's on top now and his old pals are still down here (at Camp Lejeune, N.C.). But he remembers."
"What's happenin's, Bull?" said Santana to Spinks. "Oooops, I forgot. I can't call you Bull no more. I have to call you Champ."
"Aw, cut that out," answered Bull Spinks. "I ain't changed."
"We hope he never changes," says Sleigh. "Where else are you going to find a young man who respects authority, trains on beer and eggs, does pushups on the top of a moving car, has the endurance of Atlas and the patience of Job?"
The Spinkses are the most close-knit of families, each member resembling a separate and distinctive finger which is always ready in a crisis to clench together with the others to make one fist prepared to meet a rough world.
"Each Spinks is completely different from every other," laughs principal Marks. "But they're all-for-one."
Mother Kay is bubbling, gregarious, full of street-smart quips, good humor and admonitions to pray.
"You'd never guess she was quiet Leon's mother," says Sleigh. "When she's talking you can put down the phone, get a drink, come back and she's still going.
"She's told me that she used to be more worldly," says Lenoir, a frequent Spinks baby-sitter. "But she took to religion real big long about after her husband left."
Brother Michael Spinks, the rising light-heavy who won an Olympic gold medal as a middleweight, splits the emotional spectrum between Leon and their mother.
"Everybody thinks Leon's quiet and Mike is the talker," laughs Leonir. "And that's how it is until there's a pretty girl around. Mike is shy, but Leon never had no problems. Leon always have had a big mouth when it's time to party.
"People around here tease Leon that it was his old gril friend Vedo May Calvin who knocked out his teeth. They were always punchin' on each other. Veda May's a big girl. She'd smack Leon pretty good."
Leon is now married, and he and his wife Nova have three children, including a 9-year-old stepson.
If Leon was always the first to boogie, Mike was the one in danger of following a good time all the way to jail.
"Neither of them was into the drug trafficking," says principal Marks." But Mike let himself be guided by other things (gambling among them). He was going deeper and deeper. If it hand't been for one police sergeant who took an interest in him . . . well, that man saved his life."
It was the Marine Corps that helped give Leon direction. Despite reports that he beat more than one bullying NCO to the punch, during boot camp Spinks eventually took to Marine discipline.
"Leon was proud of his uniform and proud of his status as a Marine boxer," says a former Marine coach. "I don't know where they get this stuff about Leon not training right as a pro. In the Marines you'd see him out at 3 a.m. running on his own."
Marine boxing was a raw and bloody sport. One day at Camp Lejeune an Army fighter, Tommy Johnson, gave Spinks his current unique smile. Much of th e rest of Spinks' remaining military career was spent in preparation for three rematches with Johnson.
"Leon made him pay for those teeth," recalls Cpl. Santana. "Before Leon whipped him the final time, he had Johnson tame. I talked to Johnson before the fight and he said, 'You know, my idol used to be Muhammad Ali. Now it's Leon Spinks.'"
Despite his mother's teachings, his Marine pride, his Darst-Webbe ferocity, his 185 amateur fights and his Olympic light-heavyweight g old, almost nothing in Leon Spinks' past prepared him for his stupendous present.
Of all history's heavyweight champs, Spinks has the least experience, both in the ring (eight pro fights) and in the fight game jungle.
"My greatest fear," mother Kay has repeated," is that Leon will win the championship too soon, before he's ready."
Already the fight sharpies have spotted this brawny lamb in wolf's disguise.
"Every heavyweight that can walk will make a comeback," says match-maker Teddy Brenner.
"Spinks is an out-and-out amateur," scoffs Jimmy Young's manager. "The first man who fights him will beat him."
"He's a sucker for a right lead," says Ali.
"You can knock him out with a left hook," says Ali's strategist Angelo Dundee.
"He eats the jab real good," says butting, gouging mediocrity Scott Le Doux who jabbed Spinks to a draw just two fights ago.
Let's see. That's the jab, the hook and the right cross - the three fundamental punches in the sport. And experts say Spinks can be tagged at will with any of them.
Perhaps the heavyweight crown has never tottered so precariously, nor has its holder seemed so ripe for every sort of making plucking.
"Spinks left Las Vegas surrounded by smiling thieves," sighed a veteran sports columnist.
Unfortunately, Spinks' naivete has been shown toomany times already.
"I hear tell Leon thought he'd signed up with the Marines for two years, but they'd got him for four," says Sleigh. Spinks' manager Mitt Barnes tells the same tale.
While the other U.S. Olympic winners made cagey money deals, Spinks suffered by comparison. While Sugar Ray Leonard made $42,000 on his first fight and quickly owned 100 per cent of himself, Spinks earned around $30,000 for all seven of his '77 fights.
Manager Barnes, a St. Louis teamster organizer, gets 30 percent of all Spinks' ring earnings through 1979, despite the fact that Spinks has already disavowed him, saying "I manage myself."
Spinks' adjustment to being the world's most conspicuous athlete will be enormous. The day before the fight he felt his $320,000 purse would insure that he could reach his eventual dream - "to own a small club and tend bar."
In the wake of perhaps the most totally unexpected upset in boxing history, Spinks was still stunned, saying, "I woke up this morning and I lied in bed and looked at my championship belt, I said, 'I did it. I really did it.'"
Even the kids at Vashon know Spinks is in over his head. "We're using Leon's life as a teaching tool this week," says Marks.
"On one hand, we tell them that as soon as you accomplish something, or even try to people check into your past. Leon proves how a good character is worth as much as money.
"But the kids are embarrassed when they hear Leon talk on TV. They see that education is not like an automobile that can be recalled to get fixed in a hurry.
"Leon exemplifies the difference between poorness and poverty. Poverty is a state of mind, a kind of despair and giving up. Poorness is temporary, something you never stop fighting against.
"But Leon also exemplifies the need to stay in school."
Spinks has moved into a fast, head-spinning world. Already gifts are being borne to the new king. A huge gold ring with black onyx dice and seven diamond chips was a token of esteem from a Las Vegas jeweler.
However, even in Vegas, seven is a dangerous , two -edged number to roll. It can clean the table, or it can be craps.
No one yet knows the outcome of the enormous seven that that gap-toothed man-child rolled last week. The question on the table is no longer "Who is Leon Spinks?" but rather "What will happen to him?"
That is the real riddle of this Spinks.