was born Cassius Clay on January 18, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, but he
would be known the world over as Muhammad Ali. He grew up in an old house
on Louisville's Grand Avenue where he held court on his porch telling his
neighbors: "You see this house? It's gonna be a shrine one day."
of the most original and beloved figures in sports history, Ali's exuberance
and vitality endeared him even to people who knew nothing about boxing.
publicist Irving Rudd accompanied Muhammad on many of his training
expeditions and adventures, and remembers a particular time in 1976 when
Ali was training for a title defense at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills
in upstate New York.
entourage took over all the rooms in the golf clubhouse," Rudd
recalled "He had his own cook, a Muslim woman named Lana Shabazz, who
specialized in fresh fruits and vegetables and made a hell of a pecan pie.
every one in a while, Ali had a hankering for regular food and that gave
his bodyguards something to worry about. One Friday night, cold turkey, he
shows up in the main dining room. Big as life, with that regal presence,
all smiles, he walks through the room.
'Champ! Champ! Champ!'
old bubbies were calling out his name. They loved him, and he loved it.
Ali bent down and kissed the old ladies, shook hands with everybody,
signed a few autographs. They all had themselves a time, including his
bodyguards, but that was on safe territory.
time, Ali took off from his roadwork and wandered into South Fallsburg, a
nearby town. It was like a scene out of "Rocky." Kids trailed
after him chanting "Ali! Ali!" People flocked around him asking
for autographs. He was the Pied Piper in a sweat suit. The people loved
every minute of him out there in the open, but his bodyguards sweated it
exuberance and love of people was genuine. I experienced it firsthand one
day when I was in the elevator in the Empire State Building on my way to a
opened, and in stepped Ali together with what I assumed were two big
bodyguards. Although never a collector of celebrity autographs, I had
always been a great fan of Muhammad Ali. So I reached into my jacket
pocket for a pen and index card, planning to ask Ali to sign his name for
me. My wrist was suddenly grabbed by one of the bodyguards and pinned
against my chest. But Ali snapped, "Leave the guy alone. Can't you
tell he's a friend?"
took my pen and index card and wrote: "Harvey, you are the greatest!
finishing my business in the Empire State Building, I went down the
elevator and out onto 34th Street. There in front was a green Jaguar with
a license plate which said simply "ALI."
called himself "the Greatest." He used lyric verse to describe
his style of boxing: "Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee."
For his third fight with Joe Frazier, he used an even worse verse:
"It will be a killa/and a chilla/and a thrilla/when I get the
was the greatest; he is the greatest.
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Other Frommer sports related articles can be
Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth
College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage
in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
This Article is Copyright
© 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.
All rights reserved worldwide.