HELPING RACE RELATIONS (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 28, 1998) By Bob Broeg Recently in Detroit, they saluted an occasion when race relations took a small step forward, thanks to white Americans becoming colorblind in appreciation of an African-American who triumphed as good over evil. Sixty years ago at Yankee Stadium, young champion Joe Louis knocked Germany's Max Schmeling down three times in the first round to retain the title. Here, meaning St. Louis and everywhere, white Americans cheered. And many for the first time shook hands with blacks. This was, if you will, a step in the right direction, seven years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. That occasion in June 1938 was dramatically different from the same location two years earlier, when Schmeling hung a surprising 12th-round knockout on the then-unbeaten 22-year-old Louis. The Brown Bomber, as Louis was called, had won 27 consecutive bouts, 23 by KO. Schmeling, a 31-year-old former champion, was supposed to be only a big-name title tune-up for the Brown Bomber. Trouble was, the wily Schmeling, watching Louis in person and on film, explained that he saw something. What he saw was a bad habit. Joe threw lefthanded jabs in succession -- one, two -- dropped his left shoulder and then crossed with his right Patiently, the veteran waited. In the fourth round, after Louis jabbed twice and lowered his left shoulder, Schmeling dropped him with a savage overhand right to Louis'unprotected jaw. Demonstrating courage as well as ability, Louis hung in until the 12th, but the stunning loss moved Schmeling front-and-center for a chance at the championship, held then by Jimmy Braddock. Braddock had won the title in '35 by outpointing Max Baer. By now, Germany's contender seemed a top-heavy favorite. There was Adolf Hitler's arrogance and claim of Aryan supremacy, reflected in his arrogance toward the Jews - the severity of which was only partly understood then. Braddock's manager, Joe Gould, a Jew, temporarily made certain Hitler's pride and joy, Schmeling, didn't get the championship chance. Gould cut a deal by which Louis got the title shot in exchange for future financial considerations for Braddock. Jimmy fought valiantly before the Bomber bombed him out in eight rounds in 1937. So now, in a moment of truth, Louis would have to face Schmeling as good against evil. With much of the world rooting for him, Louis faced his conqueror in June 22, 1938 at Yankee Stadium. The occasion was honored 60 years later at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, named for the former Alabama farm boy who grew up in the Michigan metropolis. The Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame sponsored the situation in the city where the Brown Bomber is beloved. In addition to the sports arena named for him, there's a giant statue of a boxing fist. Also, the lobby of adjoining Cobo Hall, with a room of memorabilia for Louis, displays a glass-enclosed, bronzed left glove. It's the one that toppled Schmeling in the first round. Schmeling, who claimed he'd been hit with a kidney punch, left the ring in shrieking pain. Embarrassingly, he was carried by stretcher the next day onto the German luxury liner, the Bremen, for a long, agonizing ship ride back to the fatherland. Louis fought too long -- until 42 -- in 1956, but Schmeling also boxed too long after having served with the German Luftwaffe. He was a paratrooper who was wounded at Crete. Schmeling was 43 when he turned from the ring to a prosperous date with European Coca-Cola. Max sent funds to Louis' widow after the Bomber died in 1981 at 67, but Schmeling had a pretty good excuse for not coming back for the anniversary of the night Joe Louis put him on his backside - along with Hitler's idea of Aryan supremacy. Schmeling is 94 years old. A SILLY LITTLE BOY WHO LOST A NICKEL (Detroit News, June, 1998) By Joe Falls Was it that deadpanned look, that icy expression, cold, lifeless and menacing? Or was it the way he shuffled across the ring, almost flat-footed, moving slowly, carefully, in search of his prey, knowing he could escape for only so long? Or was it simply the way he could cave a man in with one swing of that right hand? What was it that made Joe Louis such a fascinating figure in the ring? I don't know. As a boy growing up in New York City, I never saw him fight. This is strange because he was my first hero. At age 8, I knew little of the world around me, but I loved Joe Louis, and I'm not sure why. When, as a man, I came to Detroit, the place where he grew up, I read stories of how the black citizens of Paradise Valley would gather on their porches on those hot summer nights and listen to the man's great fights around the country. They could not have had much, but they had this man -- this magnificent man -- and through him they reached great heights. I had it easier. I lived in a row house in Queens, not a large house but comfortable. It was myself, my father (a New York City policemen), my mom and my two brothers. We were a sports family and we, too, except for my mother, would gather around the Philco radio and listen to Louis' great fights, each of us conjuring our own visions of the man. Black? I had no understanding of black. We didn't live with any black people. Joe Louis was black, but it never occurred to me. He was -- Joe Louis. A great fighter and a great man. You could tell it by the newsreel films in the movie theaters on Saturday afternoons. He would plod after his man, then corner him, then finish him. The best part was when he would walk away so quietly, without fuss or fanfare, job done. He was a man of dignity, even though I hadn't learned to use the word yet. Then came the first fight against Max Schmeling. I was so enamored with Louis, I said to my brother: "Bet you a nickel Louis wins." Eddie, eight years older, said, "You're on," and put the two nickel in his shirt pocket. And then, as we huddled around the radio, it was hard to believe what we were hearing from Chicago: "Louis is face down on the canvas ... he isn't moving ... eight, nine, 10 -- Max Schmeling wins in 13 rounds by a knockout." I can't remember the reaction in our living room but I was sure of one thing: My brother would give me my nickel back. He was a good brother. I waited a while and, just before going to bed, said, "Can I have my nickel back?" He said "No. I won it. It's mine." I went to bed crying, not understanding for a moment what a truly good brother he was. I loved Joe Louis more than ever because we had lost so much together, and when I saw him pick himself up and go on, beating Schmeling a few years later with that one-round knockout in Yankee Stadium, utterly destroying the German champion, and, as always, handling the moment with great style and grace -- neither chortling nor prancing and preening over the victory -- I knew I would in some way have to conduct myself in a similar fashion if I wanted to be like my man. They honored Joe Louis in downtown Detroit on Monday, but I didn't go. How could I tell them such a silly story about an 8-year-old kid who lost a nickel on a fight? ALI CONTINUES TO CAST A SPELL (Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1998) By Fred Mitchell He is and always will be the greatest of all time. Just ask him. Then watch him. Last week Muhammad Ali greeted seven invited guests to his dazzling new boxing gymnasium on the grounds of his Michigan estate, consenting to a rare, exclusive interview and first-ever photographs in his environs. Ali, the 56-year-old international icon, rendered orally challenged because of the effects of Parkinson's disease, still manages to communicate eloquently with his patented smile, expressive eyes, keen sense of humor and persuasive showmanship. One visitor, 13-year-old Cassius Harris of Chicago, immediately was enthralled by his namesake's magic tricks. First, Ali took a red handkerchief, stuffed it into his meaty left hand and made it "disappear,'' forcing a look of bewilderment on the face of young Cassius. Then Ali, the former Cassius Clay, turned his back on his small audience and appeared to levitate a few inches off the ground, ``floating like a butterfly'' as he used to brag when he was a brash young champion. "Who taught you those magic tricks?'' Ali was asked. "Houdini,'' he answered with a straight face. Continuing to show off for his visitors, Ali climbed up between the ropes of his new boxing ring, hopped up on the canvas and invited his visitors, one by one, to spar with the Champ. Kevin Kalinich, attorney for White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, entered the ring and Ali immediately joked: "Are you the Great White Hope? Are you the one who called me a name?'' Clearly, the new boxing ring -- the first one he has entered to train since 1981 -- has rejuvenated Ali. "I love it. It keeps me in shape,'' he said. Kalinich, who studied at Yale and wrote a thesis 18 years ago on the life and tribulations of Ali, feigned being knocked against the ropes, then dropped to the canvas as Ali stood over him as he once did against Sonny Liston. Kalinich, overcome by emotion, later was in tears as he left the gymnasium after his ``dream of a lifetime'' visit. Next, young Chicago artist Dujuan Austin, who presented Ali with a magnificent portrait rendered on a chair that will be sold for charity at Thursday night's annual Celebrity Chair Auction at the Sheraton Hotel, donned a pair of red boxing gloves to "challenge'' the champ. Other visitors followed: Celebrity Chair Auction founders Mary and Tom McCall; Chicago publicist Barb Kozuh; charity volunteer Christine Kordiuk; and young Cassius. When Cassius asked Ali a question about his boxing career for a school project, Ali shot back: "Who are you, the black Howard Cosell?'' As the adults laughed, young Cassius looked bewildered and asked: "Who is Howard Cosell?'' During a pause from such levity, Ali retreated to a neutral corner and repeated one of his famous bits of poetry: "I wrestled with an alligator, tussled with a whale, handcuffed lightning, threw thunder in jail. I'm a bad dude.'' In the middle of an interview, Ali closed his eyes and appeared to fall asleep. His personal assistant and co-conspirator, Kim Vidt, said: "Muhammad has narcolepsy and sometimes just falls asleep like this in the middle of the day.'' Convinced his interviewer is persuaded, Ali opened his eyes suddenly, lunged forward and shouted: "Boo!'' He smiled contentedly at the little prank he and his wife, Lani, also once pulled on CBS "60 Minutes'' reporter Ed Bradley three years ago. "Did I get you on that one?'' he asked. Ali recently sat in on Mike Tyson's hearing in Nevada to help convince a board to reinstate his boxing license. One of Ali's current concerns is raising more money for his museum in his native Louisville. Nearly $40 million has been generated, but another $50 million in corporate sponsorship funding is needed to break ground on the facility. Ali said he hopes the museum will be a center where people can learn tolerance and understanding. Over the history of the annual Celebrity Chair Auction, Ali has helped elicit more than $75,000 with his signed auction items. Thursday's event will benefit Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation and the Resource Center. Tickets ($75) will be available at the door of the downtown Sheraton. Asked which fight he considers his all-time greatest, Ali said: " 'The Thrilla In Manila.' The third Joe Frazier fight.'' Then he launched into another signature rhyme: "I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick . . . I'm so mean I make medicine sick.'' With a hint of bitterness nearly four decades later, Ali recalled the indignity of returning to Louisville after winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, only to be denied entrance to a restaurant in his hometown. Ali, in disgust, threw that gold medal into the Ohio River, saying it was not worth having if his freedom was denied. The U.S. Dream Team Olympic basketball squad presented him with another gold medal several years ago. When Ali refused military induction in 1967, he became a controversial figure because he stood up for his religious convictions as a Muslim. How ironic that the "Louisville Lip'' with the motor mouth, charismatic personality and handsome face is left to communicate with mere images and nuances of his former self. As David Remnick writes in his new book -- "King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero'': "If (Ali) had had the face of Sonny Liston he would have lost much of his appeal.'' Today Ali's cherub face is a window to our nation's political, religious and sports legacy. In body and soul, Ali remains a gracious and enduring symbol of American lore--the greatest of all time. Just ask him. A CHRISTMAS HELPING OF BOXING BOOKS (The Independent, London, December 24, 1998) By Ken Jones In describing the scene of Cassius Clay's coronation on 25 February 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida, a distinguished American sports columnist, the late Red Smith, wrote: "Cassius Marcellus Clay fought his way out of the horde that swarmed and leaped and shouted in the ring, climbed like a squirrel on to the red velvet ropes and brandished his still-gloved hand aloft. 'Eat your words,' he howled to the working press rows, 'Eat your words.'" Smith's words, the words of practically every reporter at ringside. Words that carried resentment of Clay's uniquely extravagant style, his brashness and obvious contempt for the racist convention that he should be grateful for a chance to rise above disenfranchisement. At least Smith had the grace to add: "Nobody ever had a better right [to howl at the press]. "In a mouth still dry from excitement of the most astounding upset in many roaring years, the words don't taste good, but they taste better than they read. The words written here, and practically everywhere else until the impossible became the unbelievable truth, said Sonny Liston would squash Cassius Clay like a bug." As David Remnick states in The King of the World (Random House), not the most comprehensive or revealing, but beyond doubt the most elegantly crafted book about Muhammad Ali (so far only available in the United States): "some of Clay's other detractors could barely bring themselves to admit that they had been so wrong about him. "Dick Young's column for the [New York] Daily News seethed with resentment, as if the outcome had been a conspiracy designed specifically to offend him. 'If Cassius wants me to say he's the greatest, all right, I'll say it,' Young groused in print, 'but I'll say he scored the greatest retreating victory since the Russians suckered Napoleon into a snow bank. I never saw Joe Louis run away and win, or Rocky Marciano, and I'm sure my father never saw Jack Dempsey run away and win, and my grandfather never saw John L Sullivan run away and win.'" American friends in this trade who think Remnick spends too much time putting down sportswriters of that era point out that Ali was a culture shock, a dramatic departure from the custom of one-dimensional fighters. They miss not only the irony of Ali's lasting fame as a boxer but that of his subsequent passage from reviled draft-dodger and rabble-rouser to all-American hero. As for allegiance to the Nation of Islam, his apparent acceptance of a philosophy that damned the white man as a devil, Remnick quotes Ali's ring doctor Ferdie Pacheco. "He's not a hater," Pacheco tells the author. "But he's always marched to his own drummer. He sees things as he wants to. Whatever is best for him, whatever ideology is best for him, whatever programme is best for the way he thinks his life should be." Ali treads slowly now, each careful step a measure of the difficulties inflicted by Parkinson's disease. But in Remnick's stylish prose there is resurrection. Although Ali is followed no further along the yellow brick road than his defeat of Floyd Patterson in November 1965 it is enough. Editor of New Yorker magazine, Remnick won a Pulitzer Prize for Lenin's Tomb: The fall of Communism. With this penetrating study of events that announced Ali as the sports figure of the century and a symbol of black consciousness he lives up to his credentials. Nobody on this side of the Atlantic who was assigned to charting Ali's progress got closer to him than the ITV boxing commentator Reg Gutteridge. There are many anecdotes about their relationship in Gutteridge's entertaining autobiography Uppercuts and Dazes (John Blake Publishing, £16.99). When recovering in hospital from a serious illness Gutteridge woke up one evening to find Ali standing over him. Hearing in London that Gutteridge was unwell Ali insisted on seeing him at a late hour. His senses by then impaired, Ali placed a hand on Gutteridge's brow and mumbled a Muslim prayer. It came as no surprise to boxing people when Naseem Hamed split with his Irish mentor Brendan Ingle. The turbulence that entered their relationship after Hamed became established as a major figure in the sport is vividly documented by Nick Pitt in The Paddy and the Prince (Random House, £16). Considered by Gene Tunney to have possessed "the keenest and most analytical brain that ever graced a prize ring", James J Corbett caused a technical revolution in boxing when he defeated John L Sullivan in 1892 to become the first heavyweight champion under Marquis of Queensberry rules. Born in California to Irish emigrants, Corbett brought science to a sport that had previously been regarded as a brutal test of raw courage and strength. The fascinating story of Corbett's remarkable career in and out of the ring is well told by Patrick Myler in Gentleman Jim Corbett -- The Truth Behind a Boxing Legend (Robson Books, £17.95).