July 18, 1997 in Nation/World

Maxey Always Knew When To Pull A Punch

John Blanchette The Spokesman-R
 

The last time I wrote about Carl Maxey, I tagged him pretty hard. Telegraphed the punch, too, but I’m guessing it still hurt, if only a little.

So when the phone rang the next day, I expected to get tagged back.

Turned out I didn’t know Carl Maxey as well as I thought.

It was always easier to be preoccupied with the fighting side of Carl Maxey, because that’s what first captured Spokane’s notice and, as the years passed, simply refused to turn it loose.

Pay attention, he insisted.

Maybe he would insist with a phone call or a fax. Or a story scissored from some journal and dropped in the mail. Maybe a broadside delivered from his sturdy soapbox.

Or a nasty lawsuit.

The agendas were just as various, though in the end they all boiled down to pretty much the same thing.

Fairness. Justice. No favorites.

It’s amazing how unpopular those causes can be.

I do know that when I arrived in Spokane 16 years ago, something in his method - or perhaps it was just his choice of clients - had made him a target of some scorn in our newsroom, and for a time I took that on faith.

Then he was voted into the Inland Empire Sports Hall of Fame, and for the sake of a newspaper profile an overcast October afternoon was surrendered to an absolutely riveting recounting of the life and the mores that molded Carl Maxey, the source of both his warmth and his outrage.

After that, it didn’t seem to matter if he represented bikers and bad guys sometimes. Or rather, it mattered in a very different way.

As the years passed, we’d reconnect on the sports page and in person. He blistered the state’s colleges for exploiting black athletes. He took up the cause of an aging champion trying to wheedle a fair shake out of Don King.

God, don’t you have to love him just for that?

Sometimes he’d call me over to his office to talk about boxing. Sometimes I’d ask advice about raising kids in a cruel world.

He was an expert on both, and proudly so.

Collegiate light-heavyweight champion while he was going to Gonzaga Law School, he was - say the old-timers who saw him in the ring - a remarkable athlete, a boxer of power and grace and surprising temperament. Too many opponents were out of his league, and often he carried guys.

Mercy, Carl Maxey knew even then, can be a fighter’s finest quality.

Eli Thomas saw it up close. He was a weight class below Maxey and thus his sparring partner, though five years younger. He became a collegiate champion, as well, but treasures more the association.

“The thing you really liked about him,” said Thomas, who heard the news of Maxey’s death Thursday while in Butte for a school reunion, “was that there was no guess if he was your friend or not. If you were going good, maybe he wouldn’t pay much attention to you. But if you were in trouble, he’d be there.”

And because of his profession, he was around trouble a lot. Sometimes he made it.

His old coach, the late Joey August, joked about that when he inducted Maxey into Gonzaga’s athletic hall of fame.

“A lot of guys don’t like him,” August bluntly told the audience. “Some of you divorced guys really don’t like him. But your ex-wives do.”

So do the disenfranchised who came to know him as their most dogged advocate and most trusted friend - and you can’t be that unless you’re also a mouthy irritant to the comfortable and conservative.

So no matter how noble the cause, Carl Maxey was going to make some enemies. Giants always do, and he was that - an imposing, impressive black man who fought a pretty damned long and lonely fight in the whitest of towns, but on his terms.

Carl Maxey was the Real Deal long before Evander Holyfield assumed the nickname.

And some of us just enjoyed the fact that he could be a pain in the ass.

But the last time I wrote about Carl Maxey for his legal representation of a fired basketball coach, I tagged him pretty hard. And yet the phone call the following day was kind and conciliatory - he almost apologized for walking into the punch. If he had been hurt, he was of no mind to hurt back. He had, in his lifetime, experienced enough of that. He called it a lesson about frankness and friendship, and soon enough it became clear he was imparting that lesson, not just acknowledging it.

“That’s a big man,” said another friend, when told of the call.

The biggest.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email