The son of professional boxer William "Dynamite" Douglas, Douglas grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in the predominantly black Linden neighborhood of Windsor Terrace. It was his father, who ran a gym at the Blackburn Recreation Center near the Downtown Columbus, and subsequently introduced young James to boxing (in the same way James had later brought his son Lamar to the same gym.) He attended Linden McKinley High School, where he played football and basketball, leading Linden to a Class AAA state basketball championship in 1977. After high school, Douglas played basketball for the in Coffeyville, Kansas, from 1977 to 1978; the 17-year-old was a 6'0" power forward. He is in the Coffeyville Community College Men's Basketball Hall of Fame. He also played basketball at from 1979 to 1980 in Dayton, Ohio, before attending Mercyhurst University on a basketball scholarship. He moved back to Columbus to focus on boxing. For a brief period of time during his early twenties, Douglas was known as the "Desert Fox" within the Columbus boxing community. This moniker was affixed to Douglas because of a misinterpreted encyclopedia entry regarding Douglas MacArthur and Erwin Rommel. Several friends of Buster Douglas mistakenly believed that Douglas MacArthur was known as the "Desert Fox" and subsequently addressed the future heavyweight champion as such. However, Buster Douglas distanced himself from the "Desert Fox" label no later than 1985 because of clarification from his promotional team and the concern that he might be confused with Syrian boxer Ghiath Tayfour.