Millions of people around the world wanted to meet De La Hoya, to shake his hand, to slap him on the back, to say they'd been in his presence.
Despite the adoration, De La Hoya said that for years, his only friend was a bottle.
De La Hoya, one of the world's leading boxing promoters and a soon-to-be Hall of Fame fighter, is an alcoholic with 19 months of sobriety to his credit.
As the holidays approach, De La Hoya said that for the first time in a long time, he is truly joyful. A little more than a year after he admitted that he contemplated suicide to ease the pain he felt, De La Hoya could finally say he was happy to be alive.
Last week, De La Hoya gave away free tickets to a boxing card at the Los Angeles Sports Arena to thank boxing fans for their support. He spearheaded a toy drive that included other boxers such as Peter Quillin and Danny Jacobs. He immersed himself in holiday activities and said he suspected that he got far more from them than those he helped.
"This is basically feeding the soul," he said of his holiday charity work. "It's feeding my soul. It feels so good, it really does, to be able to do something for someone and see them smile and see the impact. I want to make this a tradition. It feels so good. This is what I should have been feeling all these years."
De La Hoya was admitted to drug and alcohol rehabilitation in May 2011. In August 2011, a few months after he completed his rehab stay, he gave bombshell interviews in which he admitted to a series of transgressions.
Admitting he had a problem was part of the recovery process. It took a while, though, for it to become a part of him.
It's a daily fight he'll never be able to give up, but he finally feels like he's made his problems a thing of the past.
"You get to be famous or have some notoriety and there are so many people who want a piece of you," he said. "I look back on where I was a while ago and the truth of it is, even if there were hundreds of people around me, my only friend was the bottle.
"Now, I feel the friendship. I feel the warm. I feel the love. It's a totally different thing."
A healthy, engaged De La Hoya is a great thing for boxing. Despite being retired for nearly four years, he remains among the most popular figures in the sport.
The company he founded, Golden Boy Promotions, is locked in a bitter feud with Top Rank that to most observers makes little sense. They're clearly the best promoters in the world with the deepest rosters of talented fighters, but they refuse to work together and allow fights that would be stellar to go unmade.
That's not likely to change any time soon, sadly, but now that he is sober and engaged in running his company the right way, things will more forward in a more classy, professional manner.
He understands what boxing has given him – "Everything I have in this world, I owe to the sport of boxing, and I won't ever forget that" – and he says it's time for him to give back.
He's always been charitable, but much of the giving he did before was out of some sense of obligation. Now, he's engaged in what he's doing and he's giving for no reason other than he is obsessed with the idea of helping someone else have a better life.
The competitive side of him, though, can't resist thinking of what might have been. De La Hoya will be eligible for election to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013 and is a slam-dunk choice. He won world titles in six classes and was among the elite fighters in the sport for more than a decade.
As good as he was, however, he admits he could have been so much more.
"I think about it, not every single day but almost, that if this person I am today I had been during my fighting days, the sky would have been the limit," he said. "I almost touched the sky. I wasn't quite there, but if I had been the man I am today, I definitely would have been so much more and been walking on the clouds."
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