“The next day was heavy. With only thirty hours until post time I had no press credentials and–according to the sports editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal–no hope at all of getting any. Worse, I needed two sets: one for myself and another for Ralph Steadman, the English illustrator who was coming from London to do some Derby drawings. All I knew about him was that this was his first visit to the United States. And the more I pondered the fact, the more it gave me fear. How would he bear up under the heinous culture shock of being lifted out of London and plunged into the drunken mob scene at the Kentucky Derby? There was no way of knowing. Hopefully, he would arrive at least a day or so ahead, and give himself time to get acclimated. Maybe a few hours of peaceful sightseeing in the Bluegrass country around Lexington. My plan was to pick him up at the airport in the huge Pontiac Ballbuster I’d rented from a used-car salesman name Colonel Quick, then whisk him off to some peaceful setting that might remind him of England.
Colonel Quick had solved the car problem, and money (four times the normal rate) had bought two rooms in a scumbox on the outskirts of town. The only other kink was the task of convincing the moguls at Churchill Downs that Scanlan’s was such a prestigious sporting journal that common sense compelled them to give us two sets of the best press tickets. This was not easily done. My first call to the publicity office resulted in total failure. The press handler was shocked at the idea that anyone would be stupid enough to apply for press credentials two days before the Derby. “Hell, you can’t be serious,” he said. “The deadline was two months ago. The press box is full; there’s no more room…and what the hell is Scanlan’s Monthly anyway?”
“Robert Nixon had seen everything. He had seen more than enough to put a rich and famous man, an NFL superstar, in prison. But this is what you tell the police unless you’re a fool. You can’t go wrong if you say you ain’t seen nothin’, and you can go very wrong if you say otherwise. And as far as Robert Nixon is concerned, what happened to the fat man with the Muslim beard is proof.
Nixon didn’t know the fat man with the Muslim beard when the fat man was still alive—that is to say, before he was perforated with bullets. But he’d seen him around. More than a year before the murder, Nixon stumbled upon the fat man lying in the street, in front of a water-ice stand, getting the crap beaten out of him by Marvin Harrison and Stanley McCray, one of Harrison’s employees.
It was a scene* to make anybody stop and watch. Broad daylight in North Philadelphia. April 29, 2008—a Tuesday. The corner of 25th Street and Thompson, about seven blocks north of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the steps Rocky climbed. A block of brick row houses, a church with a rubbed-out sign, a Hispanic grocery, a vacant lot. In one sense, the presence of a future Hall of Famer at this seedy vortex of the city—Harrison, eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Indianapolis Colts, then at the tail end of a thirteen-season career and a $67 million contract—was incongruous. Especially given that Harrison, who is usually described as “quiet” and “humble,” was noisily stomping the fat man in the face and gut.”
“I’ll go this far: You could drag somebody off the street — let’s say, a homeless person who doesn’t follow sports and couldn’t pick MJ out of a police lineup — bring him into the arena before a Wizards-Celtics game, sit him somewhere close to the floor, have him watch the layup lines and ask him, “Which person stands out?” And he would pick Jordan. He just would. There’s something about him, an instinctive posture that says two things: “I know everyone’s looking at me right now … and they should be.”
When MJ comes to town, before the game, people have a collective hop in their step. You can sense it. You look around 15 minutes before game time and realize that 75 percent of the fans have already arrived (it sounds like the crowd before a rock concert, waiting for the lights to turn off). Every male patron exudes a glazed, giddy, “I’m important because I’m attending this important game” glow. Every female patron seems to have spent an extra 10 minutes getting ready. Little kids look like ready to self-combust. Wide-eyed teenagers stand in the first few rows, rocking back and forth, holding pens, pathetically desperate, praying against 1,000,000,000-to-1 odds that MJ will inexplicably leave the lay-up line, vault the press table and glide into the stands to sign autographs. And when MJ comes out, he stops the place cold. All eyes shift to him. Fans start making strange sounds. You hear squeals and cries mixed in with appreciative applause, and then a slow-developing roar emerges, almost like a chain reaction: “hhhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrHHHHHHRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”
MJ’s in the house.”