It would be nice to report that the real Sugar Ray -- as in Robinson -- is still living in high style, driving that famed fuchsia Cadillac, walking on ermine carpets, wearing rhinestone-studded tuxedoes.

Nice, but not accurate.

No, Sugar Ray Robinson drives to the office every day in an ordinary station wagon. There are ink stains on his well-worn double-knit trousers, a growth of stubble on his face and a protruding pot belly the size of a small medicine ball.

"Got to get back to the gym, ol' buddy (everyone is Sugar Ray Robinson's ol' buddy)," he said the other day. "But I'm so busy, so very busy, you know how those things are."

He is busy with what he now describes as his life's work, a Los Angeles-based youth foundation that bears his name and is funded by a $400,000 state grant and another $50,000 in private donations, most solicited by The Champ himself.

In the course of a recent hour-long interview at the foundation's storefront office in a black middle-class neighborhood, the conversation frequently returns to "my kids."

There are 1,500 youngsters in the program, 60 percent from one-parent families.

Most, Robinson says, "are heading for trouble if they haven't already been there."

Sugar Ray Robinson now 57, knows a lot about trouble. Legend has it that he was heading for a life as the best 12-year-old thief in Harlem before a preacher literally picked him out of a crap game and deposited him in a ring in a church basement.

The legend, Robinson says, is fact.

"We were shooting craps in front of the Salem Crescent Methodist Church in Harlem," he said. "The minister came out the door and all the guys started to run. I stayed to pick up the cash, and he grabbed me by the shirt, carried me downstairs and got me started in the boxing program."

His name in those days was Walker Smith Jr. Too young to qualify for an AAU card that would have allowed him to fight as an amateur, he borrowed the birth certificate of a friend named Ray Robinson. Sugar came later, when a sportswriter described him as "the sweetest fighter... sweet as sugar."

Certainly it was the sweet life for Sugar Ray, in a professional career that spanned 25 years and included six world championships, 202 official fights, earnings believed to be close to $10 million and recognition last year by the boxing writers of America as the best fighter who ever lived, by a 4-to-1 margin over Muhammad Ali.

"Oh my, yes, it was fun," he says now. "I made a lot of money, and I sure spent a lot of money. I had an entourage that traveled with me everywhere. I drove fast cars, there were lots of ladies. Yeah, it was good.

"When you're making it big, you never think about the day when it's gonna end and you don't have it anymore. But I had good advice. I was able to keep some of it, thank God.

"I had a lot of friends, still do. I had a dear friend, Lucky Luciano, and he liked me a lot. He kept the fixers away from me. One time I was offered a half-million to take a dive. Two days later, the guy was dead.

"Sure, Luciano's business was the Mafia. But he loved boxing and he never let those kind of guys get near me. He was a good gangster, if you know what I mean."

Robinson says he doesn't follow the sport as much as he used to, although he is still called upon to make appearances at the big fights.

He has paid attention to one of his many namesakes -- Sugar Ray Leonard -- and Robinson says he has been impressed.

"I think he's a good young kid, with a lot of possibilities," he said. "I just hope he's got someone who knows how to handle him and brings him along the right way. I hope he's got someone good looking out for his money.

"What would I tell him? 'Son, put it in the bank.'

"When you see what happened to Joe Louis, it makes you feel so sorry.People voted me the best ever, and I was flattered by that. But I truly believe no one was close to Joe. Speed, punching, great hands -- nobody was even close.

"But Joe didn't have much education. He always had to depend on somebody to help him out. Joe didn't know too much about business. A lot of people took him for a ride.

"Yeah, I guess some people probably say the same thing about me. But I kept some, I'm not hurting. I've got my house, I got my health, and I got my kids, thank God.

"I got no regrets -- none at all, ol' buddy, none at all."