Brownsville has been known for its boxers. Tough, relentless sluggers. The community takes pride in its old sons, passing down stories and memories, keeping the earliest stages of their legacies alive.
The coaches for the Mo Better Jaguars — subjects of this week’s cover story — lived at the center of some of those stories.
Mike Tyson, for instance. Chris Legree’s cousin, Kenny, a boxer himself, used to hang out with Tyson back in the day. “Little Mike” was the runt of the crew, Kenny Legree recalls, a “snotty-nose” nine-year-old hanging with a bunch of teens.
“Lemme tell you what we used to do with Mike Tyson …”
Read our cover story: One Foot on the Turf, One Foot in the Streets
“Me and my brothers, we used to take him on the bus,” says Kenny, standing beside Chris in front of the Brownsville Houses. “We used to ride on the back of the buses back then.”
“Hitchhike,” Chris adds.
“A couple blocks up here, they had a store called Woolworths. We’d kick it in the Woolworths, you know, steal and stuff like that. Come on out, get back in the bus. Ride Tyson to Brownsville. Beat him up!”
He pauses to chuckle at the irony.
“We was a little older than him,” Kenny continues, “But mainly my brothers, they used to beat him up, take his stuff man. Send him back to Amboy Street.”
“He wasn’t no star then,” says Chris, joining in the laughter.
“Yeah, he wasn’t no star,” says Kenny. Then his face gets serious and he adds, “But that’s how he got so tough. Then once he went to jail, went upstate, when he came back it was a different ballgame.”
“He was ripped,” says Chris.
When Tyson blew up in the fight game, Chris still saw the little kid who first started flying pigeons on a roof on Amboy Street. The kid who seemed to have it harder than the rest of them.
“Mike, he was just like us, man,” says Kenny. “But, you know, Mike was a little more messed up than what we were. ‘Cause we used to have a mother and a father that we could run to. Mike’s mom, she was like in the drug game. He had no father. So Mike, he was always running around, here and there, seeing where he could get a plate of food. Used to come to my house sometimes, and sleep, eat, stuff like that.”
“When you look at a grown man and his behavior,” says Chris, “all that stuff in his childhood come into play.”
A generation later, another small kid getting picked on. Shannon Briggs lives three floors below Vick Davis.
“He was a punk back then,” Davis says, with a smirk. “He was skinnier than me!”
When Davis and his crew of friends took a day off from school, they headed straight for Briggs’s apartment.
“Hooky parties were at his house. We would knock on the door, and he’d be like, ‘Yo, my mom’s not home, I can’t let anybody in this house.’ And we would literally push the door in and have everybody else come in.”
“We’d jump on his mom’s bed. Had girls over. And two o’clock, we would all leave, and he had to deal with the consequences.”
The parties eventually stopped after “his mom sent him somewhere ’cause he was getting beat up, house kept getting trashed.
“And when you see him now — fuckin’ huge! Like, I hope you don’t have no hard feelings!”
As Briggs rose up the boxing ranks, Davis and his childhood friends came to many of his fights to cheer him on.
Like Tyson before him, Briggs went on to become heavyweight champion of the world.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha