Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Wit & Wisdom
Of Muhammad Ali

"'The man said, 'we don't serve negroes.' I said, 'I don't eat them either!' They shouted, 'boy, get out!' I looked at my gold medal and thought: 'this thing ain't worth nothing--it can't even get me a hamburger.'"
--Cassius Clay as a 19-year-old newly minted Olympic gold medalist, as quoted in the new book Ali Rap: Muhammad Ali, the First Heavyweight Champion of Rap. It's a wonderful reminder of the man's unique wit, perseverance and even tenderness. He was once knocked down at a fight in London, the first time ever in his career, by a boxer named Henry Cooper, whom he went on to knock out a round later. "I was momentarily distracted when I saw Cleopatra," he later explained, a reference to the fact that actress Elizabeth Taylor was sitting ringside. He once observed that his toughest fight of all was with his first wife, and joked that sportscaster Howard Cosell wanted to box but could never find a mouth protector large enough. But he also had his father paint the names of former boxing champions (both white and black) on large rocks strewn around the grounds of his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. And when a heckler yelled "nigger draft-dodger" at him while he was speaking at a college, he responded instantly: "...y'know, a long time ago, when I was a little boy, I used to throw rocks at donkey. And my grandma would say, 'Cassius, quit throwing rocks at that donkey, 'cause some day that donkey gonna die and come back and haunt you.' Ladies and gentlemen, I know my grandma was right, because I believe that ass is here tonight.'"

2 Comments:

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Great quote. Thanks for sharing, John. I'm of a generation (now in our mid- to late 30's) that knew OF Ali growing up, and we were even around for some of his biggest fights. But I'm not sure how much most of us knew about his political and religious convictions. Athletically, I'm just now discovering his talent via ESPN Classic. It's almost stunning to see how quick and skilled a boxer Ali was. He really did toy with his opponents sometimes, which is always fun to watch. Whenever I see one of his classic fights, it makes me wonder what happened to boxing as a sport.

 
At 5:18 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Scott, all well said. He was indeed a great athletic talent, but as all the stuff I posted suggested, he was also an interesting and thoughtful person. And though I'm older than you, I was also a little too young to appreciate some of his home-spun wisdom at the height of his fame. If only he could have been shielded from all of those blows to the head. How sad.

 

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