LAS VEGAS - Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a fan of NBA basketball, so it should come as no surprise that one of his favorite players is former Sixer Allen Iverson.

For 11 NBA seasons, roughly the same amount of time that Mayweather has been a professional boxer, both men have informed us, with words and actions, that they don't have to be what polite society wants them to be. And if that means going through life to the blaring sound of gangsta rap, if it means adorning themselves with loads of sparkly bling and speaking their minds even when it is politically incorrect, well, so be it. When you come from where A.I. and "Pretty Boy Floyd" did, keepin' it real doesn't require the wearing of tailored suits or a restriction on profanity.

Several years ago, Mayweather briefly tried to make himself over into something that he is not, and it didn't feel right. It felt so wrong, in fact, that he seemed genuinely relieved by the realization that he never was going to be the face of boxing to corporate America.

But Mayweather (37-0, 24 KOs), who challenges hero-in-a-white-hat WBC super welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya (38-4, 30 KOs) here tomorrow night at the MGM Grand, doesn't think being who and what he is should stamp him as the bad guy in a trite formula of good vs. evil.

"You know my background. You know where I come from," Mayweather told reporters here Wednesday in a typically blunt interview session in which he again sounded off on all the things that tick him off.

"I've been through a lot in my life. I lived seven deep in one bedroom [while growing up poor in Grand Rapids, Mich.]. Wasn't nobody there for me then. When my father went to prison [for drug trafficking], wasn't nobody for me then. When my mother was on drugs, wasn't nobody for me then."

So if Mayweather chooses to flash his diamond-encrusted, $500,000 wristwatch, not to mention his $300,000 necklace and $200,000 ring, he figures that's his choice, not somebody else's. It's about being happy, about being true to yourself. And, besides, nobody complains when Elizabeth Taylor goes heavy with the jewelry.

"I got Bentleys. I got Rolls-Royces. I got a mansion," Mayweather said. "So what? I chose the way I wanted to go.

"Before [the media] judge me, go home and look in the mirror at yourselves. We all got our problems. We all got our faults."

And the worst sin someone can commit, to Mayweather's way of thinking, is to present yourself in such a way that's dishonest and self-serving. So De La Hoya wants the 16,500 on-site spectators and all those pay-per-view subscribers to think this is about good vs. evil? Mayweather thinks it should be more about what's prepackaged and artificially wholesome vs. that which is heartfelt and unpretentious.

In Mayweather's eyes, De La Hoya is the bad guy for using his beautiful wife and baby as props, for shunning his East Los Angeles barrio roots, for putting others down because they make lifestyle choices not in keeping with his own.

On one level, tomorrow night's fight - the biggest of the 21st century, and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future - is about the pairing of two future Hall of Famers, each vying to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he's No. 1. It's straightforward boxing, man against man, a concept as old as Cain and Abel.

On another level, it's about dueling personalities, about the quest for respect and the different paths individuals take to attain it. It is something more raw, more visceral, more personal.

De La Hoya, the world's most popular and bankable fighter, says he respects Mayweather's talents in the ring, but he finds him reprehensible in almost every other way.

"Everything that comes out of his mouth is garbage," the "Golden Boy" said, his growing distaste for Mayweather evident.

Mayweather admits to trash-talking fluently. Some of it is merely a reflection of a confidence that borders on arrogance. But he said it is also strategy, a verbal trap set to lure in De La Hoya.

"I know fighters," Mayweather said. "Oscar is nervous. I know this. The eyes tell all."

In the gospel according to Floyd, he set up De La Hoya during the negotiations to make the fight just as surely as he has him set up to take a whupping tomorrow night in the ring.

"I'm going to tell y'all how smart I was when I made this fight," Mayweather said. "I wanted to get him to sign the contract, right? So I talked to him nice. I said, 'You're such a great guy, Oscar, you're like my idol.' And he's, like, 'Floyd is so respectful toward me. I think I'll fight that kid.'

"Everything was on his terms and I agreed to it. He wanted Reyes gloves; I said, 'No problem.' He wanted to choose the site of the fight; I said, 'No problem.' He wanted the fight to be at 154 [pounds]; I said, 'No problem.'

"But as soon as I got his signature on that contract, I could say what I wanted to say."

Mayweather, who at 30 is 4 years younger than De La Hoya, said he always believed the two of them would eventually throw down.

"I knew this fight was going to happen when I first signed with Top Rank," Mayweather said. "That's why I never got close to Oscar.

"In 1992, when Oscar was in the Olympics, I knew. I said to myself, 'One day I'm going to fight him.' I never doubted it for an instant."

Nor did Mayweather, a 2-1 favorite in the Nevada sports books, doubt that he would win as easily as he almost always does.

"I'm going to dominate him, like I dominate everybody," Mayweather said. "I make an A-class fighter look like a D-class fighter. [Carlos] Baldomir didn't lose for 10 years. He ain't touched me yet."

It is not, however, Mayweather's insistence that he not only is the best fighter of his time, but the best ever, that makes him want to take down De La Hoya so much. It is the desire to expose the six-division world champion as a faker in and out of the ring.

"When he fought Hector Camacho, Camacho was over the hill," Mayweather said, checking off a list of De La Hoya's most notable victories. "When he fought Pernell Whitaker, Whitaker was over the hill. When he fought Julio Cesar Chavez, Chavez was over the hill."

Of the only knockout loss in De La Hoya's career, to Bernard Hopkins, he said, "Oscar quit. He could have gotten up. He showed y'all he'll quit. And if you quit once, there's always a chance you'll quit again."

Fawning media members, Mayweather said, have helped sell De La Hoya's wholesome image while virtually ignoring his transgressions.

"I'm proud of my kids. I bring 'em on TV and show that I love them," he said. "Does Oscar talk about his out-of-wedlock kids on TV? No. Do you guys ever write about that, or about how he's a party animal? No again.

"OK, I'm controversial, but my interviews ain't rehearsed. Just because his stuff got swept under the rug don't make him better than me. He makes it seem like he's this happy family man. That's bull. And y'all fall for it every time.

"But you know what? The key to beating Floyd Mayweather is to never make a mistake. Every fighter who gets in there with me makes a mistake, and the mistake they make is getting in there with me in the first place."

Chambers fights tonight

Philadelphia heavyweight "Fast" Eddie Chambers (28-0, 16 KOs) takes on Dominick Guinn (28-4-1, 19 KOs) in the 10-round main event of a fight card tonight at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Philadelphia heavyweight "Fast" Eddie Chambers (28-0, 16 KOs) takes on Dominick Guinn (28-4-1, 19 KOs) in the 10-round main event of a fight card tonight at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Another bout to be televised by ShoBox: The Next Generation pits another heavyweight from Philly, Malik Scott (27-0, 10 KOs) and veteran Charles Shufford (20-6-1, 9 KOs). *