Photo Credit: (Emanuel Steward at his last interview in Detroit. – Dan Graschuck photo)
(The following narrative is the last interview Emanuel Steward had with Chronicle Sports Editor, Leland Stein III, before his passing).
Tributes continued to come in from the Sweet Science’s greatest pugilist, its writers, and promoters and fight fans in general. All revel in knowing the one of the greatest trainers ever, Detroit’s own Emanuel Steward.
Yeah, Detroit has gained notoriety for ushering in the industrial age with its car manufacturing, its legendary Motown Records and its Great Lakes, but right up front and center with all of that were Steward and his Kronk Gymnasium.
As a result of Steward’s cajoling The Kronk became synonymous with Detroit. Not only did it become the breeding ground of champions like Tommy Hearns but also a place of pilgrimage for fighters, trainers, promoters and boxing lovers from all over the world.
Kronk was more than just a gym with a boxing ring. Steward through his amazing character, will, caring and force of personality transformed the sweaty gym into a place of hope and inspiration..
Steward put the Kronk Team on the world’s map with a stable of champions that began with Hilmer Kenty, Thomas Hearns, the McCory brothers and continued until his death with Ukrainian heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko.
Steward had Kronk to a place where even if one was not a major boxing aficionado, more than likely he or she has heard about Detroit’s Gym.
Although the City of Detroit closed its oldest recreation center – the home of Kronk Gym – in 2006, Steward took his gym to Warren Street in Detroit.
Steward told me: “I’ve talked to Mayor (Dave) Bing and he has expressed an interest in helping Kronk where he can. He comes from a sports background and he understands how it can impact kids in the community. I also get the feeling he appreciates Kronk’s contribution to the image of the city over the years.”
To the end Steward was always thinking about how he could help others.
While Steward evolved into an international boxing icon as a trainer, manager and play-by-play announcer, his nephew, Javon Hill, stepped into the mix and kept Kronk on track.
“My nephew,” Steward said, “retired from the police department and he has revitalized the amateur program. He is continuing the traditions that have made Kronk famous. He makes sure that the fighters still focus on basic fundamentals and they get regular fights.”
Steward said that making sure the boxers stay active and in competition was very important.
“It’s just like when a guy only plays basketball in the backyard,” Steward said, “but when he joins a league and goes and play against others from everywhere, he’ll probably get better. It’s the same with boxing.”
Motown has produced an illustrious and renowned leader in Barry Gordy, Kronk has Steward.
Motown has produced The Temptations, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and The Four Tops, just to name a few.
Kronk likewise has developed champions like Kenty, Hearns and Mickey Goodwin, Duane Thomas, Jimmy Paul and the McCrory brothers, Steve and Milton.
“Getting involved with Kronk has changed my life forever,” Hearns told me. “After Hilmer won Kronk’s first title, we were all determined to keep it going.”
Added Milton: “I was a baseball player at Pershing (High), but once I got turned on to Kronk I was able to travel and see the world and I liked that.”
Steward told me a story about when they first started they drove “old cars up and down the freeways,” stayed one in a room in bad hotels and “shared one meal with four people.”
As Kronk’s fame grew in the late 1970s and 80’s, an unbelievable collection of boxing greats, many who were or became world champions trained at Kronk at least once during their careers. Men like Julio César Chávez, Naseem Hamed, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Wilfredo Benitez (in the Tucson gym), Hector Camacho, and Jermain Taylor.
Others have come behind them like Gerald McClellan, Leeonzer Barber, Michael Moorer, Leon Spinks, Dennis Andries, Mark Breland, Wladimir Klitschko and Johnathon Banks, respectfully.
All these men have helped Kronk’s name, symbol and boxing colors become Detroit icons noted around the world.
Although Steward’s goal is always to produce champions like Motown produced hits, he recognizes that the club is a vehicle to help young men refocus their lives.
“There are kids that have changed their life because of Kronk,” Steward said. “The lessons of discipline, hard work and dedication are learned in the gym, because many do not get them at home.”
As Steward reflected on the amazing history that Kronk has created he even had to take a step back and say, wow!
“I’m still surprised at how it has all happened,” Steward exclaimed. “Just think, I only started this to help my brother (James) learn the sport. Now we are all over the world and Detroit and Kronk is on the boxing map. That’s why I want to keep this in Detroit, because there is a lot more talent out there, all they need is opportunity and a place to learn.”
Indeed Kronk, Steward and Detroit became ingrained in international boxing lore.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @LelandSteinIII