This is what we have come to in Sports World: The single most anticipated event is not a game but rather the release from captivity of a convicted rapist.
Twenty-seven days from now, the heavy metal security doors of the Indiana Youth Center will screech ajar and Mike Tyson will emerge a free man, having satisfied what the judicial system deemed to be his debt to society.
And in Sports World, all hell will break loose.
For Mike Tyson represents a license to print money.
He is capable of generating more income than most bowl games. He will be his own Final Four.
So a caravan of limos is apt to be awaiting the March 25 release of inmate No. 922335, each of those stretch schooners bearing expensively suited spiders desperate to entice Mike Tyson into their silken webs.
At least six fistic cartels have identified themselves as eager to manage and promote Tyson. In just his first half-year loosed from incarceration, Mike Tyson should generate literally hundreds of millions of dollars.
Such is the currency of fame these days.
Here is our hypocrisy: We decry the violence visited upon the young beauty contestant whom Mike Tyson raped. But come the late spring, when he returns to the ring, we will line up hungrily to buy HBO or sign up for pay-per-view to see Mike Tyson visit violence upon some unfortunate hamburger.
And after he has disposed of one or two warm-up corpses, demonstrating that he remains as destructive as ever, then sometime around November he will be matched against George Foreman, and all previous records for moneymaking from a single night in sports will disintegrate.
It is perverse, this panting interest, but it reveals a seamy side of us.
All you need to know about the effect of Mike Tyson on Sports World is that the seismograph needles danced crazily last week when word - erroneous, it turns out - circulated that he was to be let go early, that Don King would be camped outside Tyson’s place of imprisonment early last Wednesday, with the motor running.
The remora and the leeches circled frantically, fighting for feeding positions. It was astonishing, the reaction, the furor, caused by an athlete who has been in exile for almost three years, whose last fistfight for money was almost four years ago.
The irony is, his banishment has only added to his mystique.
As a society, we find the musk of celebrity intoxicating.
Mike Tyson sells danger, in its most seductive and destructive senses. He was, and presumably remains, an athlete with the outlaw allure of rap musicians.
We will pay money to see him again, and this is the irony, the hypocrisy: We don’t want to see the beast tamed, rather we want to see him unleashed.
There always has been a primal appeal about Mike Tyson. He calls to our dark, violent side, the part we struggle to keep hidden. He galvanizes crowds, awakening in them the instinct for raw aggression and the strange will to inflict hurt that resides in all of us.
“I could have been him,” George Foreman admitted once, alluding to his early life.
“A lot of women told me: `Your day will come, and when it does, I’ll be the first one rejoicin’.”’
Foreman, of course, found salvation, reinvented himself. Now he is the most embraceable athlete inhabiting Sports World. A fight between him and Tyson could approach a gross of $200 million.
Just before Tyson was found guilty, he had been scheduled to fight Evander Holyfield, and “that” bout was going to be worth $100 million.
So with Foreman the opponent, clutching Bible in one hand and half a broasted chicken in the other, the financial possibilities are off the chart. The reformed gangster now turned gentlemanly grandfather matched against a force of nature and recently freed convict … yes, the imagery is heavy-handed and the symbolism shrill, but nonetheless it will sell, sell, sell.
The wonder will be if, on the last Saturday in March, Mike Tyson is able to walk out into the sunlight under his own power. When he was sent away, more than a few of us wondered if three years wouldn’t turn out to be a death sentence - we envisioned some incorrigible serving four 99-year terms, deciding he had nothing to lose by proving that he, not the former heavyweight champion of the world, was the baddest man on the planet.
In what physical shape will Mike Tyson emerge? Reports are that he has kept his weight down, that he hovers around 212, and has kept his squat, thick torso solid with hour upon hour of sit-ups and push-ups.
But there is not so much as a punching bag available, so shadowboxing is as close as Mike Tyson has been to making a fist.
And shadows don’t hit back.
He is 29 years old now, which is supposed to be the physical prime for a man. But, of course, physically, Mike Tyson was a man by the time he was 12. He will not have lost his power, for that is always the last thing to go - even at 46, Foreman can still one-punch a water buffalo into unconsciousness.
But Mike Tyson is apt to have lost some speed, some reflexes.
Whether he has lost any of his appetite for violence, only he knows.
What Sports World knows is that nobody out there seems to have lost his appetite for Mike Tyson.
That is an admission made with absolutely no pride.