The disrespecting of a flag, and the culture clash between a Philadelphian and a Puerto Rican, seemed like a big deal. Until suddenly, four days before the scheduled September 15 fight date, nothing seemed like a big deal anymore.
On Tuesday, September 11, two hijacked planes crashed into the two World Trade Center towers, and within less than two hours, both towers had been reduced to rubble and nearly 3,000 lives were lost. Everybody remembers where they were and what they were doing that morning. Here’s photographer Will Hart, who has lived in New York City all his life.
Hart: First of all, it was a beautiful day. It could have been like the 10 best days of the year. And you could just sense that fall was around the corner. An absolute cloudless, cobalt-blue sky. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful morning. And I got up early. And what I normally do is turn on FAN and listen to Imus in the Morning in those days. And make my coffee, do my usual morning stuff. And then I heard him say, Imus said, “I just got a call from Warner Wolf, and he says a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” And I’m like, holy shit, I heard a fucking plane go so low, heard it, because I’m on the West Side on 45th Street, I’m about three blocks away from the Hudson River. That plane flew right over us, at a really low, low altitude, and at a slow, slow speed. I heard that plane. And I shower and I said to myself, “I gotta get down there.” You know, I’m a photographer, I gotta get down there. And, came out, and then the second plane hit, and after that, I said “I’m not going anywhere near there.”
Some of the HBO broadcast crew members were in New York already on September 11, some weren’t. Jim Lampley was in Wichita, Kansas, working on a report for Real Sports and was stuck there for three extra days because all planes were grounded. Lampley told me of his time in Wichita, quote, it was “a very odd and strange place to be contemplating the possible disintegration of global society.” Larry Merchant, meanwhile, was already in New York, with his wife.
Merchant: I can recall going out into the street to see what it felt like, seeing people who had obviously, who walked uptown. I remember going to the corner of 59th Street Bridge, and seeing people walking uptown with their briefcase, like out of something out of a Magritte painting. And in general, people being stunned. Walked over to Central Park, near the zoo, and sat down and found myself people watching, and people just trying to take a deep breath and gather themselves and try to figure out what was going on and how they felt, I guess.
Don King publicist Alan Hopper was also staying at a New York hotel that week, and when he came to the conclusion that there was no more boxing PR work to be done that day, he returned to his hotel.
Hopper: I remember, Dean Witter used to use the hotel we stayed at a lot for trainees, and there was a guy on the elevator on that afternoon, September 11th, who said, “I was in the second tower when the first one got hit.” And we all asked him, “What did you do?” And he said, “I ran down the stairs and I got out of there.” And that was pretty amazing. To have actually been riding on the elevator with a possible dead man who got out. And so, I was happy for him. But I couldn’t imagine what it could have been like to have been him, and he was standing there and the others were not. And then you remember all the family members who went around with pictures of their family members, looking for them. And everybody knew that it was very unlikely anybody would be found, but nobody would say a word to them. And there were pizza parlors and restaurants closer to—whole walls were dedicated to the photos of the people and the family members were doing what they could and looking for their loved ones.
Bernard Hopkins had just gotten in from a run in Central Park when the first plane hit, then he was going to head downtown to the Trinity Boxing Club on Duane Street for a public workout. His adviser Lou DiBella was headed to the same place.
DiBella: I had left my house in Long Island and was in a car heading to the city when I heard on the radio that there was an incident at the Trade Center—because we literally, literally, were doing a public workout in the shadow of the Towers. It was gonna be at the Trinity Gym. It was literally within a block or two of the World Trade Center. And as I was approaching the ramp that leads you to the Midtown Tunnel, the second plane hit the Towers. And I saw, like, an eruption and smoke and whatever, I pulled off the highway at the last possible exit before you go into the city, and I reversed course, back home. And I knew right then and there that the fight wasn’t going to happen that weekend.
DiBella’s instincts were correct. And before long, everyone involved with Hopkins-Trinidad had to figure out what the tragic events of the day meant for the pay-per-view event scheduled for that Saturday. Mark Taffet recalls when those conversations began.
Taffet: I think it was that night. Maybe 10 or 12 hours after the events of 9/11, that we talked about the fact that it was highly likely that the event would be postponed, the September 15th finals of the middleweight tournament. And we really had no idea, at that time, whether, let alone when, the event would be rescheduled. So we were scrambling. I spoke with Don, he knew he had to speak with Madison Square Garden. The Garden was in touch with the mayor’s office, and it didn’t take long to announce the postponement of the event. But we really didn’t know at the time of postponement whether or when it would be rescheduled. We had no way to anticipate the extent of damage, the security measures and repairs and cleanup that would be necessary, and whether or not an event could be staged again.