There's this friend of mine, let's call him Harpo, who's on a streak of bad luck Jimmy the Greek wouldn't believe. Not much is going right for him. He is in debt. He doesn't know what he's doing. He enters contests, he never wins. Cars break down on him during first dates and across from 125th Street. And he tells me he just took a beating in the weekly poker game last night. Everyone folded on his best hands.
This grim streak started with the NCAA basketball playoffs this winter. Harpo just wouldn't give up when he was ahead. That's the thing about betting, no one ever knows when to give up. How would bookies stay in business otherwise? Well, in the quarter finals Harpo went out and bet a bundle on North Carolina, UNC-Charlotte, and for good measure, Nevada-Las Vegas. He had this strange feeling it would be a Carolina spring. The weekend came and went, his teams all won, and Harpo was a rich man. So did he quit? Do lemmings stop drowning? A lot more units this time (the semifinals) on both Carolinas versus Marquette and Nevada-Las Vegas. Marquette beats UNCC at the buzzer. Harpo swears the video-tape shows the Marquette center, Jerome Whitehead, quilty of offensive goal-tending. He screams it was a fix. Then the other game: he bets on North Carolina, and North Carolina wins. So he's even, right? Only he gave up two points to Nevada-Las Vegas and Carolina only wins by one. No bingo. He kept telling me about the uncontested layup at the end that cut Carolina's lead. His bookie smiled all the way to the bank.
So when one of Harpo's friends, we'll call him Long John, opens up People Magazine this week and finds a hype for the Great White Hope, Duane Bobick, he knows someone who'll be very interested. Long John remembers the Olympics a couple of years ago, he remembers a Cuban heavyweight who provided Bobick with a closeup view of the canvas. Now he sees Bobick posing with his Italian girlfriend, with his dog, running on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Like Rocky. This is all because Mr. Duane Bobick is going to fight Mr. Ken Norton on May 11th in Madison Square Garden. Long John also remembers Ken Norton. Norton is that movie star who made some guy named Ali sweat to hold onto his crown. But Bobick is 38-0, the magazine says. Bobick KO'ed Chuck Wepner, the Bleeder from Bayonne, in six rounds. Joe Frazier is training Bobick, teaching him the tricks of the trade. An upset?
Long John gets on the telephone and calls Harpo. He tells Harpo about Bobick and Frazier and Wepner and Rocky. Then he tells him about Norton. Long John is cautious. He knows some of Harpo's friends call him up to find out who Harpo thinks is a sure bet. Then they bet the other way. That's called the Harpo System. (In the back of his mind, Long John's hoping Harpo will scare some people into betting for Bobick.) Because Harpo smells a sure winner.
"No doubt about it. No way. No way Norton can lose."
"Are you sure?" Long John asks.
"I'm willing to put my money on it."
"What money?" Long John can tell Harpo is getting a little frantic when he hears that question.
"I don't know. But everybody's going to be betting for Rocky. Believe me. Bobick couldn't beat Norton if he was getting blood transfusions from Joe Frazier."
Long John decided to give him one more chance. "You really think so?"
"Bobick's a chump. He doesn't have it. It."
Long John feels better. Harpo may even convince some people to back Bobick with his talk of chumps. But there's still a little worry growing in the back of his mind. He knows the guys at Nini's Corner now tell you to look for Ring magazine, the Bible of boxing, back in the section "with the other fake sport, wrestling." He knows about Don King. He remembers a fight up in Maine when Sonny Liston went down before Ali had put his hands up. He begins to think about what the promoters are thinking. Undefeated Bobick beats Norton, Bobick versus Ali. A white champ? Long John suddenly doesn't feel so good. And what about Harpo? With his luck, Long John known, it's more contagious than the measles.