[Maury Z. Levy: author’s note: In 1975, Muhammad Ali had been the king of the world for a long time. He was always surrounded by press people fighting for interviews. He talked a lot, but never let anyone get really close to him. Then a strange thing happened. He lost a fight to Joe Frazier. Reporters did a 180 and started following Frazier. Ali was alone. He wasn’t used to that. So, I got a call one morning from Ali’s press guy. He said Ali liked a Philadelphia magazine cover story I’d done on hockey flash Derek Sanderson. He said Ali wanted me to come up to his Deer Lake, PA training camp and spend a couple hours with him. The couple hours turned into a couple days. I got to train with him, I got unlimited access to him. Here’s the story…]
THE FORMER CASSIUS CLAY remembers when he was “just another nigger.” “It started back in Louisville. That’s where I was born. I was riding a bus one day. Didn’t have no Cadillacs yet. I was riding this bus and I was reading in this newspaper about Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson. This was just when I had decided to turn professional, right after I won the Olympic gold medal in Rome. I was sure I could beat either one of them if I had the chance. But I was just as sure that I wouldn’t get the chance because nobody had ever heard of me. So I sat there thinking. How was I ever going to get a shot at the title? Well, it was right on that bus I decided. If I ever wanted to get noticed, I’d have to start talking it up. I’d have to do better than that. I’d have to start screaming and yelling and acting like some kind of a nut.
“You see, I figured if I did that, pretty soon people would get tired of hearing from me and they’d be insisting that I put my fists where my mouth was and fight whoever the champ was. They’d watch me fight. And I would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. That saying has stuck with me to this day—float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
“I started off pretty slow because I had to sort of feel my way around, find out what the folks, the reporters especially, wanted to hear. I told this one reporter I was going to knock this boy down in the sixth round, and he printed it and then I did it. That’s the first time I said I am the greatest. I figured if I didn’t say it, nobody else was going to say it for me.
“First the people were saying, ‘What’s that bigmouth talking about?’ But I kept fighting and talking and pretty soon people were saying I was the greatest. And I just said, ‘I told you so, didn’t I?’
“Now where do you think I’d be right now if I didn’t use all that shouting and hollering to get the public to notice me? Do you think I’d be sitting here in some $250,000 house in Cherry Hill? Hell, no. I’d be back down there in Louisville washing cars or running some elevator and saying ‘yes suh’ and ‘no suh’ and knowing my place. Instead of that, I’m the highest-paid athlete in the world and I’m the greatest fighter in the world. And that’s just the way I planned it.”
Like all things with Muhammad Ali, the former Cassius Clay, the explanation is a little oversimplified. But it’s very basically true. People around Philadelphia tend to take Ali for granted. Maybe it’s because he’s lived around here for the past five or six years, because he’s trained and done most of his talking around here. People just tend to see him as part of the local color. You lose perspective. Read the rest of this entry »