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.'"