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Becoming Muhammad Ali / (by James Patterson, Kwame Alexander, 2021) -

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Becoming Muhammad Ali /    (by James Patterson, Kwame Alexander, 2021) -

Becoming Muhammad Ali / (by James Patterson, Kwame Alexander, 2021) -

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Becoming Muhammad Ali / (by James Patterson, Kwame Alexander, 2021) -
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2021
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James Patterson, Kwame Alexander
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Kwame Alexander
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intermediate
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02:34:49
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Becoming Muhammad Ali / :

.doc (Word) james_patterson_-_becoming_muhammad_ali.doc [14.01 Mb] (c: 7) .
.pdf james_patterson_-_becoming_muhammad_ali.pdf [9.13 Mb] (c: 6) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Becoming Muhammad Ali

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The wonders and woes in this novel are true_ or based on truth and real things_ that happened to real people_ or real people we imagined_ to be true_ for real. ROUND ONE I remember everything. You probably would have too. That night was a piece of American history. The Clay family phone was dusky black with a rotary dial, and it sat on a wooden table in the neat-as-a-pin living room of the little house on Grand Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky. Some twenty of us were crammed like sardines into the room, waiting for that phone to ring. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for Cassius to call home. It was a February night in 1958. And I remember it like it was yesterday. My best friend, Cassius, was three hundred miles north in Chicago, and that night he was fighting for a championship in the Golden Gloves boxing tournament. Cassius wasn_t a professional yet, just an amateur. Tall, but a little skinny, and a lot raw. Only sixteen years old, like me. I_m Lucius, by the way. Nice to meet you. You can call me Lucky. All my friends do. Cassius had already won plenty of bouts all over Kentucky. But the Chicago Golden Gloves was the big time. When he won there_and we all knew he would_it would be lights out! From now on, people everywhere would know the name Cassius Clay. And so we waited for the phone to ring. I remember that living room was so packed with family and friends and neighbors that we could hardly move! The smell of roast chicken and sweet potato pie and cheese grits mixed with the smell of paint and turpentine. Mr. Clay, Cassius_s dad, who everybody called Cash, was a sign and billboard painter, and he kept his work supplies right there in the house. _Mrs. Clay!_ somebody called out. _When that boy of yours gets famous, he ought to buy you a bigger house!_ _Oh, you know he will!_ she answered. Then she looked right at me. _Isn_t that right, Lucius?_ _Yes, ma_am, you know it is. Cassius promised you a big house!_ I remember that Mrs. Clay was too nervous to eat. But she wasn_t too nervous to talk about how proud she was! _My Cassius did everything early!_ she was saying to a group of ladies. _He crawled early, talked early, walked early_walked on his toes like a dancer._ The ladies all laughed_as if they hadn_t heard that story a hundred times before. But Mrs. Clay just couldn_t help it. Cassius always told her he was bound to be the greatest_with a capital G_and she believed it with all her heart. So did I. So did everybody in Louisville_s West End. C_mon, phone. Ring, phone, ring-a-ding-ding. The men and boys around the room_including Cassius_s little brother, Rudy_looked at one another with big grins and made punching motions with their fists. The big fight should be over by now. Under those bright lights in the middle of that huge Chicago Stadium, Cassius would be standing tall in the ring with one hand over his head like always_his opponent next to him with head bowed down in defeat. Then the phone rang. It was Cassius with news about the fight. And he told it like only Cassius could tell a story_ Before the Fight a reporter asked me if I thought I was as good as Joe Louis or Sugar Ray was at my age and I told him, I don_t think I_m as good, I_M BETTER. Got more FLOW than Joe, more SLAY than Ray. I_m sweeter, stronger, and faster. As a matter of fact, I_m so fast I can_t even catch MYSELF. Cassius Clay vs. Alex Watt FEBRUARY 24, 1958 Here_s how it all went down: The bell rang in Chicago Stadium and I could barely see the lightweight rush me through the rank cigar smoke that filled the arena. In the first round, he threw punches like pitches, fast and straight, striking air and striking out. So, I played peek-a-boo in the second, sending quick jabs to his head. You ain_t ready for Cassius, I whispered. Then I shook him up with a left and took him down hard in the third. He sho_ wasn_t ready. But neither was I, when I found out who I was fighting next. Cassius Clay vs. Francis Turley FEBRUARY 25, 1958 Frank Turley was a cowboy from Montana, meaner-looking than an angry ox, with fists even meaner. They said he broke a guy_s nose with a left jab, then smiled when the joker went tumbling outta the ring, blood spurting everywhichaway. I_ma lick you good, boss, he said, winking at me before the bell rang, and I believed that he believed he would. Knockout We traded punches like baseball cards. Him, a wild mustang. Me, a Louisville slugger. Back and forth, left and right, rough and rugged, till he cornered me with two lucky shots to the jaw that felt like kicks from a mule and sent me tumbling to the mat, wondering if I should just stay there. Long Count One_ While I lay there, the referee standing over me, counting to ten to see if I could get up, I wished my father was sitting ringside shouting my name. Two_ I thought about home, about 3302 Grand Avenue, and playing football in the backyard with Rudy, and Three_ the Montgomery kids next door and who was gonna babysit them now that I was a boxer, Four_ and whether Lucky bought the new Superman like he promised. Five_ I thought about my granddaddy Herman_s story about Tom the Slave. Six_ I thought about how boxing was gonna set me free, set us all free, and Seven_ what I_d ask Momma Bird to cook for my celebration dinner after I got up and Eight_ whupped this cowboy from Montana and advanced to the semi-finals of the 1958 Golden Gloves Championship. Celebration Dinner Menu Two orders of veal Three slices of white bread A bowl of cornbread dressing One large green salad A bowl of chili Scrambled eggs Cheese grits Baked chicken with baked potato Two pieces of pecan pie Five scoops of strawberry ice cream, and A great big ol_ glass of OJ. I Jumped Up On Nine_ and Frank kept swinging like a lumberjack trying to knock down a tree but I kept standing, kept sticking, kept moving like a mighty wind till the final bell rang and the judges unanimously called out my name for the win. Cassius Clay vs. Kent Green FEBRUARY 26, 1958: GOLDEN GLOVES SEMIFINALS I was a little weary from hanging out the night before but that didn_t shake my confidence when I stepped into the ring, gliding like a bomber jet and launching punches like missiles. Thing was, Kent Green was a tank and he just brushed off my attack like you would a pesky fly at a picnic. The evening newspaper read: The sixteen-year-old pugilist from Louisville with his quick feet and a loud mouth showed promise in his first two fights but got outboxed by the older, more seasoned, hard-punching Kent Green. On the Phone with Lucky I might have lost but I_m still boss. I lost my stride but not my pride. I_m still here, and yeah, I_m comin_ home but this dream I got is set in stone: To be the best in the hemisphere. To win the Golden Gloves next year. How do I know? _Cause Cassius is courageous, tenacious, and one day he_ll be the greatest. You hear that, Lucky? I_m coming home. ROUND TWO Maybe he didn_t win the Golden Gloves championship in Chicago that year_but my friend Cassius was still bound for greatness. He just knew it. And I knew it too. To tell the truth, I think losing that last fight made him work even harder. Made him focus. Nobody could focus like Cassius Clay. He didn_t let anything stand in his way. Not even a bottle of soda. Me, I loved soda_especially ice-cold in frosty bottles on those hot Louisville summer nights. So did most kids. It tasted soooo good! But Cassius never touched it. Not a single sip. _Sugar and acid ain_t good for you, Lucky,_ he said. And that was that. Focus. For Cassius, there was no smoking either (_Ain_t gonna put that stuff in my lungs!_). And he always went to bed at ten o_clock, even on Saturday nights. Like he wanted to grow in his sleep. Focus. After school, we went everywhere together, the two of us. And whenever we headed downtown, we stuck together tight. Tight like glue. And we kept our eyes wide open. Because going downtown meant crossing over into the white world. And in that world, four eyes were definitely better than two. All over Louisville, we saw signs that Cassius_s daddy had painted. But the white people who owned the stores under those signs stared at us when we passed by_like they were just waiting for us to do something wrong, or say something fresh, or take something we didn_t pay for. One day, we passed a bicycle store. There was a line of bikes out front, with bright chrome fenders and front wheels all turned to one side. At the end, one bike stood out past the others. It was a brand-new Schwinn Black Phantom, with white sidewall tires, pinstripes, and sparkly paint. It was the coolest bike either of us had ever seen. Cassius gave out a low whistle when he saw it. _Look at that bike, Lucky!_ he said. _That_s the kind of bike I should be riding!_ Cassius reached out and stroked the handlebars like he was petting a cat. The chrome gleamed between his fingers. Then we heard the bike-shop door open. The owner and his wife stood in the doorway, halfway out, at the top of the cement steps. We froze. _You boys don_t want nothin_ with that bike,_ said the man, his face all red and puffy. He started to come down the steps at us, but his wife put a hand on his arm. She seemed a little softer, but still strong enough to stop him. She had reddish-blond hair and a green dress. _Scoot, now,_ she said. _You boys get on home._ She knew exactly where home was. Home meant the West End_mostly black Louisville. It was one of the few parts of the city where the Clays and my folks could buy a house. In most parts of town, they couldn_t get a loan to buy a house, couldn_t even walk into most hotels or diners. Whites Only, the signs said. When Mrs. Clay took Cassius downtown as a kid, he got confused because nobody there looked like him. _Momma Bird,_ Cassius would ask, _what did they do with all the colored people?_ One day when Cassius was little, he stood outside the five-and-dime store crying because he was thirsty. When Mrs. Clay went inside to ask for a drink of water, the store guard made her leave. _If we serve Negroes in here, we lose our jobs,_ the guard told her. So Cassius went home thirsty, mad the whole way. Cassius was so young, his momma thought he wouldn_t remember that day. But he did. Granddaddy Herman_s Living Room was always like church to me. I was the congregation. His couch, my pew. The rhythm and blues on his radio was the choir, and Ebony magazine was his bible. His sermons were sometimes poems, other times stories from history_his and America_s. But my granddaddy_s sermons always ended the same way: Know who you are, Cassius. And whose you are. Know where you going and where you from. Amen. Amen. Amen. Where I_m From I am from black Cadillacs, from plastic-covered sofas in tiny pink houses. I am from the one bathroom we all shared and the living room you stayed out of. I am from Friday fried fish and chocolate birthday cakes, from Levy Brothers_ slacks and shiny white shoes, from Cash and Bird, from storytellers and good looks, from don_t say you can_t till you try. I_m from the Kentucky Derby and the land of baseball bats, from the two Cassius Clays before me_one black, one white. I am from slavery to freedom, from the West End to Smoketown, from the unfulfilled dreams of my father to the hallelujah hopes of my momma. My Momma smells like vanilla, is always smiling, loves cooking, and I bet could make a whole Sunday outfit outta needle and thread. Odessa _Bird_ Clay may be the smallest of the Clays, but her heart is the biggest, wide as the sea. And when she sings at Mount Zion Baptist, her voice is like water, soft and sweet as a hummingbird. She Says the Day I Was Born my head was too big to come out on its own, so the doctors yanked me with some sharp tongs that left a small, square bruise on my cheek. She says I hurt so much that I cried and hollered most of the night and into the next day, which got the other babies in the ward screaming too, but probably I was sounding a rallying cry to all my little soldiers for all the brown babies in the world to stand up and be counted. After That I vowed to never let anyone put a mark on my pretty face again. Cassius Clay vs. Odessa _Bird_ Clay MARCH 14, 1943 My first knockout punch came at the age of one, when I accidentally hit my beautiful momma in the mouth and knocked her front tooth clean out. When Bird Gets Mad at me about something I done wrong, she calls me CASSIUS MARCELLUS CLAY JR., but mostly I_m just Gee-Gee _cause she says before I could even crawl I was running my mouth, and the first sound I made was the letter G, twice, but probably I was just dreaming aloud, foreshadowing my fate, trying to voice my future as a Golden Gloves champion. My Brother, Rudy came two years after me, and ever since, we_ve been like two golden stars in the northern skies_ inseparable_and our parents_ brightest hope. Now, My Daddy Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., better known around Louisville as Cash, is the opposite of Bird. He_s six feet of bronze and brawn, and when he isn_t singing or scolding or dancing or joking with his Saturday night buddies way into Sunday morning, he_s painting masterpieces_old Bible scenes on church walls, new billboards, and signs on storefront windows_and happy the whole time. Signs My Father Painted Open Lunch and Dinner Dreamland Bar and Soul Food Caf? Our Own Community Delicatessen Best Charcoal Ribs in Louisville Parking Around Back Whiskey by the Drink Serving Fresh Ice Cream Colored Waiting Room This Way for Fun_Fontaine Ferry Park Whites Only Segregation Is Immoral There_s No Way Like the American Way Vote for Progress We Cut Heads Percy_s Barbershop Now Buy Victory Bonds Rock and Roll Sold Here Closed on Sundays Some Sundays when Papa Cash would stumble in after being out all night, Momma would ask him when he was gonna fix the wobbly front porch or the leak in the roof, and he_d ignore her or start fussin_, then leave back out the house with me and Rudy tagging right along, over to Granddaddy Herman_s house, who would give us something sweet, like Black Jack Taffy, show us magic tricks, tell us funny and not-so-funny stories about famous and not-so-famous Negroes, bounce us on his one good knee, all while smoking a cigar and arguing with my daddy till they both fell asleep. Growing Up When Rudy could walk we got a pet chicken, a dog named Rusty, and a new house with a brand-new backyard near the size of a basketball court, where we would play with Rusty, and chase the chicken and each other around. We had a goldfish pond that I watched Daddy build, plus a vegetable garden with snap beans that I loved to peel, and onions that I loved to eat, raw. Everything was easygoing and laid-back on our side in the West End, where we lived, so that_s where we played and prayed and went to school and grew up but every now and then we_d cross a line and wonder why we couldn_t stay and play on the other side of it. The Other Side When Rudy got old enough for Bird to let me take him out and about, we ran, jumped, and played on every inch of Chickasaw Park, _cause it was in our neighborhood but we_d never been to Fontaine Ferry Park even though it had amusement rides and even though it was right next to our neighborhood. We were gonna go to Fontaine and dare anybody to stop us. We told Momma we were walking over to Granddaddy Herman_s to help him chop some wood, which was true, but first we were gonna cross the line and go have some fun at Fontaine Park. The Whites Only sign met us at the fence outside the park and the two police officers with Colt 45 pistols made sure we stayed there. Later That Day we chopped wood in silence and when we were done Granddaddy Herman preached a sermon that I_ll never forget. Two Louisvilles For a Negro boy in the West End, you know you can play tag in Chickasaw Park but you better not be caught dead in Shawnee Park or Boone Square. And, no matter how many times you hear the crackle of wooden roller-coasters, smell the hot buttered popcorn, and watch thousands of happy white kids eat cotton candy, you know you_re not allowed in Fontaine. Boys, there_s two Louisvilles: One where you go school shopping for clothes and one where you can_t try on the clothes beforehand or bring _em back if they don_t fit. One where you roller-skate outside your house and one where you_re not allowed inside the local rink. One where you can go to some movie theaters and one where you have to sit in the balcony and barely hear the movie. One where you got a decent job with decent pay and one where you get a raise but your house payment goes up. One where you can go to the amusement park with your friends and one where you stand outside the fence like a caged bird singing the summertime blues, because your skin is like a crow_black and unwelcome. One for whites and one for blacks. Know who you are, boys. And whose you are. Know where you going and where you from. Amen. Amen. Amen. I Want to Be Rich I said to Rudy as we lay in the backyard under the stars talking to the chicken and each other about being famous one day like Chuck Berry, that way they_d have to let us in their amusement park. But, since neither one of us could sing or dance, and we both loved to slap-box, we figured maybe we could be rich like Joe Louis instead, buy the darn park, and build the first American Cadillac roller coaster, candy-apple red, so that any kid could get into Clay Park and ride the rides. Momma Hollered from the kitchen, interrupting our moonlit dreams and big ideas. Gee-Gee, time for you and Rudy to wash up, say your prayers, and go to bed. I liked pranks, so I stood up, told Rudy, DON_T MOVE! There_s a great big ol_ copperhead snake in the grass next to your head, and he jumped up, screaming all the way into next week, forgetting all about Fontaine Ferry Park. But I never did. ROUND THREE Did I mention I always wanted to be a writer? Maybe you guessed, since you_re reading this. Written by Lucky. Or I guess I should say, by Lucius Wakely. Sounds more writerly. But luck definitely played a part in me becoming a writer. Because I was lucky enough to know Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Cassius would be the first to admit that he didn_t like to write_or study. He showed me his report card once. His average grade was 72, which was just about passing. He got a 93 in metalwork, though. I guess you could say he was good with his hands. I was different. I liked school. In fact, I bawled like a baby if I didn_t get 100 on a test. But Cassius wouldn_t let me cry about stuff like that. _Dry it up, Lucky!_ he said. _School ain_t life._ Once I got a B on an English essay, and I knew it wasn_t fair. Cassius made me walk right up to the teacher after class and argue with him. I went back and forth with that teacher for a half-hour_but in the end, I got my A. _You got it _cause you deserved it,_ said Cassius, _and _cause you didn_t back down._ Cassius didn_t like to read much either, but he really liked being read to. Sometimes we_d sit together in his front yard with his little brother, Rudy, and I_d read from newspapers or magazines or comic books. Especially Superman comics. Cassius loved Superman. Loved him! He loved that Superman was stronger than everybody else. He loved that he was world-famous. He loved that he defeated villains and that people called him a hero. _Truth, justice, and the American way._ That was Superman_s motto. Cassius loved that part the most! There were times, growing up in Louisville, when Cassius was my own personal superman. One day, the three of us_me, Rudy, and Cassius_were walking down the street when a car rolled right up next to us. It was so close, I could hear the radio and smell the cigarette smoke inside. The car was filled with young men. White men. And I guess they thought we were on a street we shouldn_t be on. The man in the front passenger seat leaned out the window. _This ain_t your neighborhood,_ he said. _You boys are in the wrong place._ Then he flashed a knife_a switchblade. I was really scared. So was Rudy. Maybe Cassius was, too. But he didn_t show it. He stepped right out in front of me and Rudy. _You dumb enough to try something with that knife?_ Cassius said. He looked right at the guy, staring him down. Daring him. It was hot that day. The temperature inside that car must have been triple digits. The guys were getting mad because we weren_t moving. We were just standing there. I saw the guy with the knife say something to the driver. The car engine stopped. Then all four car doors opened at once. Cassius turned to me and Rudy. _Time to go,_ he said. Cassius was brave, but he wasn_t stupid. All we heard was _Hey!_ as we started running. With his strong legs, Cassius could have been home sitting on his porch before Rudy and I got to the end of the block, but he slowed down so we could keep up. There was no way he was going to leave us behind. My Friends Everybody_s got a nickname on our block. Rudy is sometimes Hollywood on account of Daddy named him after one of his favorite movie stars: Rudy Valentino. My best friend, Ronnie, is Riney, _cause that_s how his grandmother screams it from her living room window when the streetlights start flickering: RINEYYYYYY!!! Lucius is Lucky, on account of one summer he fell through a plate-glass window and not a scratch was on him, then the next summer he crashed his bike into a parked car and flew over the car into a bed of hay in the back of a passing pickup truck. We call Corky Butler Chalky, but not to his ashy face, _cause he_s strong as a mountain lion, meaner-looking than a jackal, and he gives out black eyes_to boys and some men, too_like candy on Halloween. We got Jake and his brother, Newboy, who both sing doo-wop in a group called the Blue Tones. There_s two Bubbas_one short, one tall. Big Head Paul_s got a head big as a battleship. Cobb, aka Lil_ Man, is two years older and two feet shorter, but got a real job and new clothes, new shoes, and a bank account to prove it. When they see me coming, it_s always, We should call Gee-Gee the black Superman. Faster Than a Speeding Bullet We shoot marbles, play touch football in the backyard, stickball out front in the street, hide-and-seek with the girls, see who can spit the farthest, pretend we_re Jack Johnson knocking out the Great White Hope, and run races in Chickasaw Park, but my favorite game is when Rudy throws rocks at me and misses _cause I duck so fast I make him call me Donald, jump so high I can nearly touch the sky and grab a cloud. It_s a bird, it_s a plane_ Card Trick You got some speed on you, Cassius, Granddaddy Herman says after we finish pulling weeds from his garden. He shuffles the deck of cards, then tells me to pick one. You remind me of myself running bases. How good were you at baseball? I ask, pulling the king of hearts and sliding it back so he can_t see it. Better than most, he answers, throwing the cards all over his kitchen table. As good as Jackie Robinson? I ask. Coulda been. Really? Coulda been as good as Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and all them other players you ought to know about too. Did they play in the major leagues? You writing a book, or what? he says, shaking his head and telling me to pick the cards up. Conversation with Granddaddy Herman Shouldn_t you head home with your brother? He_s got to do homework. Momma Bird stays on him. What about you in school? Your lesson_s important, ya know. I know. I get by, I say, handing him the cards back. That ain_t enough, Cassius. _Life ain_t no crystal stair._ What_s that mean? It means, you gotta work twice as hard to get half as far as the rest of these folks out here. Can I ask you a question, Granddaddy? I don_t know, can ya? Why_d y_all name me and my daddy after a slave owner? Boy, you got some learning to do, about baseball and your name. _ The o-riginal Cassius Marcellus Clay wasn_t no slave owner. In fact, he freed all his slaves on the Clay plantation, including your great-granddaddy, my father. Then he went and fought for the Union in the war. You and your daddy_s named after a man with principles, probably the only white man I ever knew to be good. Know who you are, Cassius, and whose you are, understand? Yes, sir. Now, I know you hungry, _cause you always eating, so go ahead and get some of my cookies, and leave me three. Thank you, Granddaddy. Get a glass of milk, too, so you can get on home. I can stay a little longer, if you need help around here. I got stuff to do, boy. _ Tell you what, while you eating up all my snacks, I_ll tell you the story of Tom the Slave, and then you get on home. Deal? But what about my card? You mean the king of hearts you_re sitting on? he says, smiling. _ That Same Night at bedtime I tell Rudy about how Tom the Slave escaped to freedom by hiding in a casket on a ship of dead bodies on its way to London, England, and how when he got there he became a famous bare-knuckle boxer who would_ve won the heavyweight championship of the world if a hundred Brits hadn_t gotten so mad that he was beating their fighter that they rushed the ring in the ninth round, clobbered Tom, and broke six of his fingers. That ain_t true. You calling Granddaddy Herman a liar, Rudy? I_m just saying, you think it_s a real story? Probably, I don_t know. It_s a good one, at least. Why didn_t he fight with gloves on? You writing a book, or what? _ Rudy, before we go to sleep, pick a card. Ritual I practiced card tricks every night on Rudy, even stayed up long after he fell asleep, trying to find the right card, trying to prove to myself that I was smart at something. One Friday after school, me and Riney and Rudy were outrunning the city bus heading home, figured we_d save the ten-cent fare for some Finger Snaps at Goldberg_s, when I took a detour and told _em, Hey, let_s go to that hamburger joint over on Broadway. We sat in Rainbow, splitting two cheeseburgers and fries, me joking about Riney_s bald spots from the terrible haircut his grandmomma gave him, and Rudy winking at every girl that walked by with her momma, when in walked Tall Bubba, who we hadn_t seen since the accident. The Accident We were playing ball on Virginia Avenue, our block against theirs. It was me and Riney, Short Bubba, and Lucky against Cobb, Big Head Paul, Jake, and Tall Bubba. Rudy was still sick with the chickenpox bad, even though our neighbor told us we could cure him by flying a chicken over his head. Cobb_s block always beat us _cause Big Head Paul was a three-sport legend in the West End. I mean, he could hit a rock with a pencil. And Tall Bubba, from Smoketown, had arms so long he could probably box with God. He caught everything. But then Cobb pitched me a fastball that I cracked so high it went way over Tall Bubba_s outstretched arms and landed inches from the storm drain near the corner of 36th and Virginia, where it slowly rolled in before he could grab it. Tall Bubba was the only one with arms long enough to reach down the drain, so he did, and no sooner than he screamed, I GOT IT, FELLAS, it blew up right in his face. We used to smell gas all the time around there, but none of us ever figured it was anything that mattered. We Never Saw Him After That until we sat in Rainbow, splitting two cheeseburgers and fries, telling jokes, winking at every girl that walked by with her momma. Until today. Conversation with Tall Bubba Hey, Bubba. Hey, Gee-Gee. The fellas are over there. Yeah, I see _em. _ _ They fixed the gas leak. That_s good. I heard the City_s gonna pay you for what happened. Naw, they ain_t even calling my daddy back. That ain_t right. _ When you coming back to school? I been doing school at home. Teachers come to my house. Don_t wanna be seen looking like this. You still cool as a pool to me, Bubba. I look kinda ragged and old with no hair and a busted-up face. A little mature, maybe. You still Tall Bubba, though, still too slick for tricks. Thanks, Gee-Gee. Hey, what did you get on your report card? How_m I supposed to know that? Report cards don_t come out till next week. Naw, they came out today. They did? Yep! I_ll see ya around. Report Card Friday I GOTTA GO, I hollered to the fellas. Gotta get home and get the mail before my daddy does. Riney sat there laughing at us and finishing the rest of the juicy cheeseburgers with pickles and loads of ketchup by himself. See, he_d been signing his own report cards since first grade _cause his grandparents couldn_t read so well anymore. But my parents could. C_MON, RUDY, LET_S SPLIT! School Big Head Paul was the smartest of us all. His hand was always the first to go up when a teacher asked a question about trees or bees or oceans and seas. Science was his thing. Riney always brought peaches and pears from his grandmomma_s backyard for our teachers, so whether he studied or not, he always got decent grades and even made the honor roll once. Lucky was what you might call a natural genius. He knew a little bit about everything and loved to talk as much as I did, but his claim to fame was he could spell mostly any word in the English language and he could read real fast, which came in handy, _cause I couldn_t do either very well. In the Second Grade we were sitting in circle time taking turns reading Fun with Dick and Jane and it was my turn and I swear the F in ?un turned upside down, started floating off the page, and then some of the other letters inside the book started playing ring-around-the-rosy and switching their order_Jane said, _Run_ became Rane _said_ Jun_and that didn_t sound like it made sense, so I didn_t say it, then the F came back but it was dancing around so much that I started getting dizzy and my stomach hurt and some of the kids started calling me dumb and I almost threw up right there in the middle of second grade circle time, so now I just try to memorize what I hear and make up what I don_t. Failed Plan I ran home so fast I could see my big toe starting to bust out of my shoe like an inmate in a prison. Rudy was two blocks behind me, so when he finally walked up, winded and holding his chest like he was gonna collapse in our front yard from running so fast and far, I was sitting on the porch scared straight _cause OUR mailbox was empty. Conversation with Momma Bird Gee-Gee, come in here. _ I thought you were supposed to be trying harder. I did. I understand everything we_re doing in school, mostly. It_s just sometimes_ Don_t make excuses, Cassius. Your father won_t like this at all. You know that! I know. They gonna fail you, you keep getting these kinds of grades. I_m not gonna fail. Grades don_t make the man, the man makes the grade. Double talk not gonna make them stop thinking you dumb, Gee-Gee. You think I_m dumb, Momma? Course not. I_m just hoping you know you not. Momma, I came in this world smart and pretty, and I_m gonna leave it the same way. Well, this weekend we gonna go see Miz Alberta Jones, see if she can help you out with some of your subjects. Yes, ma_am. Now go on and finish your chores before dinner. Momma, I_m too old for chores. Rudy_s the youngest, he should_ Gee-Gee, am I too old to cook dinner and wash your dirty drawers? Uh, no, ma_am. Then neither are you. Now, you best stop yappin_ and get your skin thickened up, _cause your daddy_ll be home soon, and he_s gonna hit the roof when he sees that report card. _ Turning Point Daddy came in the house not like he usually did_flirting with Bird and talking all loud_no, this time the storm door shut, and he came in the house, slow like a preacher walking to the pulpit to deliver a funeral eulogy. I heard him drop his art tools at the door, then heard Momma_s footsteps as she made her way to him. Rudy and I sat at the dinner table. Me, not sure how long his hollering was gonna be when he saw my grades, Rudy sneaking a bite of the cornbread from his plate. When we finally saw his head peek around the corner, like he was looking in a coffin afraid to see what was there, he motioned for us to get up, so we did. Boys, a giant tree has fallen, is all he said, hugging us like he_d never done before. I Was Twelve when I was so fast I could dodge rocks and snatch a fly outta midair when Rudy caught chickenpox, and Tall Bubba lost his face chasing a tennis ball when I almost failed outta Madison Junior High and decided I was gonna make a lot of money so my children wouldn_t have to watch the world from behind a fence when I learned how to shuffle a deck of cards with one hand and make the king of hearts appear in the other. I was twelve when my daddy came home and told us that Granddaddy Herman was, God rest his soul, dead. ROUND FOUR We were all just kids, doing the dumb stuff kids do. But Cassius was always different, with those big eyes on some picture show that the rest of us couldn_t quite see. We all dreamed about the future. But I think Cassius really, truly saw it. Like a movie. Starring him. And he always did things his way. I remember mornings when the bus would stop to pick us up for school. Everybody got on except Cassius. He_d hang back and let the bus get a little head start, and then he_d race it all the way to school_twenty blocks down Chestnut Street_with the rest of the kids hanging out the windows and cheering him on. Especially the girls. _Crazy Cassius,_ they said. _He_s as nutty as he can be._ Those same girls were the ones who winked and waved at him when they saw him shadowboxing after school, throwing punches at himself against a brick wall. Whatever he did, he seemed to attract attention. Like a star. But there were times when he was silent and thoughtful, too. Some nights, me and Cassius and Rudy would just lie on the grass out in back of their house, looking up at the sky. Cassius would say he was waiting for an angel to appear. Rudy always had his momma_s Kodak Brownie camera handy. He didn_t want to miss a chance at getting the world_s very first angel snapshot. I was never sure what Cassius wanted from that angel. Maybe he wanted the angel to tell him that he really was the greatest, or give him some kind of heavenly blessing. Maybe he was looking for a sign that there was a higher power watching over him. Anyway, it never happened. We never saw a single angel on Grand Avenue. But before too long, Cassius found some inspiration right down the road. At the racetrack. Back then, we all lived pretty close to Churchill Downs, where they hold the Kentucky Derby every year. It was one of the classiest and fanciest places in all of Louisville. Still is. It_s where the best and fastest horses in the world train. Cassius loved the horses_the way they looked, the way they moved, the proud and noble way they held their heads. But he wasn_t content to just watch them. He wanted to race them. So he would go out to the track in the morning, while the dew was still on the grass. When the trainers brought out the horses for their exercise, Cassius would run right alongside them. _They_re the only thing faster than me!_ he_d say. One time he actually got in front of a horse on the track. When the horse swerved to get out of his way, the rider fell off and landed hard on the dirt. Bam! That was the end of Cassius_s horseracing career. After that little incident, he got kicked off the track for good. But he still hung around the stables. He couldn_t get enough of those thoroughbreds. Most of all, he loved the shape of their smooth, powerful muscles, and he wanted to get his own body in condition like that_stronger and faster than anybody in the world. During the Summers we went to Camp Sky High, played paddleball with wooden rackets, and pulled pranks on unsuspecting counselors. We shot hoops with a tennis ball, and tried not to get pushed in the pond. When we got home, we played roller-skate hockey on 34th Street, but that got boring, so Rudy and I made scooters out of our skates. On Friday nights, we had fish fries, and on Saturdays, everybody on the block went to Riney_s, sat on his lawn, and watched boxing fights on an old TV that his grandmomma set outside on her front stoop. Tomorrow_s Champion At seven o_clock each Saturday night, fathers, sons, and a few daughters sat in awe for three televised fights, spellbound by the rhythm, by the hustle, by the might of two stroppy boys throwing wild blows till one went down or the bell rang at the end of the third round and the judges decided who was Tomorrow_s Champion. Fifty Cents Bird didn_t like me and Rudy betting on account of God not liking ugly, And all gambling is ugly, Gee-Gee, but I liked taking Riney_s money, so when it was time for the Saturday Night Main Event, I bet him that swift-footed Gorgeous George was gonna knock out Billy Goode, which he did, then I collected my winnings, gave Rudy a quarter, and spent the rest of the night dreaming of being in the ring one day, and trying not to make eyes at this short cutie named Tina Clark, aka Teenie, who all my friends said was in love with me. On the Way Home I Would skip and duck like I saw the boxers do on TV tell Rudy to hold his hands up so I could punch them like I saw the boxers do on TV make up songs that rhymed in my head and dance between the cracks on the sidewalk like I was in a ring, like I was Gorgeous George, like I was a bigtime boxer on TV. Odd Jobs Everybody had a job. We all wanted bikes, shiny, new ones. So we saved our money from birthdays and Christmas and odd jobs. Most of the fellas would skate around white Parkland delivering roses, tulips, and other colorful flowers for Miz Kinslow_s florist shop. Riney used to cut grass, fifty cents for the front, seventy-five for the back, _cause the back was always larger. Me and Rudy delivered Ebony magazine every month, but my regular pay came from babysitting the Montgomery kids, which was the easiest, _cause all we did was listen to boxing matches on their big tube radio. Cobb got his bike first, two in fact_one for his cousin__cause he was shining one of his customers_ wing-tipped mahogany shoes at the horse track down at the Fairgrounds for forty cents, and the guy refused to pay him, tossed him a race ticket instead, for a long-shot horse named Getouttamyway, that ended up winning, paying Cobb a whopping five hundred and sixty spanking dollars. Riney never got a bike, _cause his lawnmower skills were as bad as his grandmomma_s haircutting skills. I made enough money for a bike, but as it turned out, I never had to spend it on one. And here_s why_ The Block Riney and Lucky were shooting marbles on the curb. Jake and Newboy were singing _Under the Boardwalk_ on the front porch. Rudy was across the street talking to a girl from the sidewalk _cause her daddy didn_t let no boys in their yard. I was shadowboxing next to the redbud tree in our yard and Short Bubba was telling everybody that Cobb said that Big Head Paul told him that he saw Chalky pulling a boxcar. With. His. Teeth. The Legend of Corky Butler Chalky was the biggest, strongest, meanest kid in Louisville. He lived on the other side of the railroad tracks, in Smoketown, he had fists the size of grapefruits, and he used them to pummel anybody who stepped into the ring with him, and to terrorize everybody in the neighborhood. He didn_t ride a motorcycle but always had on a biker_s jacket. He was sixteen or twenty-six, nobody really knew, but he looked like a man and was built like a truck, which he would lift to impress the girls. When he wasn_t bullying or knocking out dudes in the ring or on the street, we used to see him hanging out at Dreamland, where all the gangsters hung. So, if Short Bubba said Cobb said Big Head Paul said Chalky pulled a car with his teeth, he probably did. The Story Continues So, while Short Bubba_s telling us the story, Teenie and some of her friends walked by, stopping in front of the Montgomery house next door, posing and posturing in matching yellow skirts, dancing and singing, stealing glimpses at me, and pretending like they weren_t impressed with me stabbing the air like my fists were knives. All the fellas followed behind them like puppy dogs, but not me, I stayed back throwing jabs at the wind till my father drives up in his rusty black pickup, and rolls down the window. Conversation with My Daddy Hop in here, Gee-Gee, he says. Yes, sir. Hey, Rudy, I scream, c_mon! Just me and you, Cassius. Rudy can stay here. Where we going? I ask, climbing in the front seat. We going where we going, that_s where we going. _ _ Daddy, can I ask you something? Boy, I don_t know, can ya? It_s just_ Speak ya mind, boy. For Christmas, can I, uh, get a pair of boxing gloves? _ Daddy? You want to be successful, Cassius? Yessir. Education is the bicycle that_ll get you there, Cassius. You keep pedaling, sometimes uphill, sometimes down. Huh? I wanna see you doing better in your schooling, not throwing punches at the wind. Just having fun, Daddy. _Cause for every one you see in that ring, a hundred been knocked out. Of life. _ You gotta work on them grades. I know. Your great-granddaddy was a slave. Your granddaddy was in jail. I ain_t finished high school. You got the chance to be the first Clay to really do something. Not if you include the white Cassius Clay that I was named after. He was a lawyer and a soldier. Granddaddy Herman told me he was a hero who freed all his slaves. He didn_t free all of _em. What does that tell ya? Maybe he wasn_t a hero. Gee-Gee, I want you to be the first of US to go to college. Do something with yourself. School_s not for me, Daddy. I_m gonna be a star, just don_t know how I_m gonna shine yet. Education is the only way I know how to find your shine, son. You found yours. I would always draw since before I could walk. When I got to paint in grade school, everything changed. A teacher showed me the great Sistine Chapel in a book and I decided that was the kind of art for me. So, you were always gonna be an artist? Until I run up on Jim Crow, who said Negroes can_t be artists. So I did the next best thing and did signs for pawnbrokers and preachers. _ All the Clays got natural talents. Your granddaddy, rest in peace, coulda played big leagues, but they didn_t allow no black players. I know. This world is white, Cassius, he says, pulling up to a church. This world is snow white. What we doing here? We going to Bible study or something? Just come on. Something I wanna show you. _ Angels We walk into Clifton Street Baptist Church and sit in the third row of the pews like Sunday service is about to start, only it_s Tuesday and church is empty _cept for me, him, and a whole bunch of flying ladies wrapped in white sheets with green wings holding flowers painted on the ceiling. Whatchu think of my latest masterpiece, Gee-Gee? This is your Sistine Chapel, Daddy? Well, I ain_t no Michelangelo, but it_s decent work. It_s the same as the picture from the Bible, right? Similar. I added my own style to it. It_s real good, Daddy, but I got one question. Say it, then. Where were all the black angels when they took the picture? When We Pull Up in front of our pink house all the neighborhood kids are still outside joking and jump roping and playing tug o_ war with the setting sun. I climb out of the blue-black truck ready to finish sparring till nightfall when Daddy slams his door and hollers, Get that tree and my painting stuff out the back, Gee-Gee. Early Christmas Lying under the tarp that covers our Christmas tree: his vinyl primer his lettering brushes his lettering enamel his cups and pencils his erasers and rulers his stencils his crusty buckets his brush cleaner his chalk powder his ocean-blue glass paint his burnt-umber acrylic paint his mineral oil his wobbly old ladder and MY BRAND-NEW FIRE ENGINE_RED SUPER-JUMBO JET SPEED-RACING SCHWINN BICYCLE. All Hail the King Everybody stood at attention, eyes glued on me and my super bike like I was Commander Cassius, the Leader of Louisville. I let Rudy ride first but all he did was fall and scrape my brand-new chrome, so I promise to teach him later. I let Riney take it for a quick spin, then I hopped on, rode around the block four times, and had Cobb time me, since he was the only one of us with a watch. On my last trip, Teenie strolled over, her lips shooting me a smile big as the sky, her teeth white as clouds, then she took her keys off her purple rabbit-foot key chain, hooked it to the spotlight clamp on my handlebars, and said, For good luck, Gee-Gee, so you don_t fall, so I let her ride on the handlebars up and down the block twice, then I rode the night wind by myself, popping wheelies and showing off my smooth-as-butter fire-engine royal-red Schwinn bike with its shiny spotlight crowning the front. After School Started Back Up in the fall, Teenie didn_t come around as much and when she did her eyes didn_t light up like stars no more, which was okay with me _cause between runnin_ with Rudy, getting tutored by Miz Alberta, and cruising around town on my Schwinn, I didn_t have time for much else. Mystery One day I was flying home with Rudy on the handlebars trying to outride the dusk and get home before the streetlights came on when I swore I saw Corky Butler running from the alley behind our house. The lights on my bike worked like the hot water in our tub_sometimes. Today, they didn_t, so we hustled in the near dark, hoping we could sneak in the back before Daddy stumbled through the front, when BAM! we hit something and Rudy and I went flying onto the gravel. We got up, bruised, inches from what was not a something but a someone lying stone-cold dead on the gravel. We ran inside, both of us wondering to ourselves who the body belonged to, whether it was really dead, and neither of us saying a single word to each other or anyone else about it ever. ROUND FIVE Growing up, Cassius couldn_t understand why white people had it better than black people. It didn_t make any sense to him. He knew they weren_t any better than black folk, just different. But whenever he asked his momma about it, she_d get real quiet and tell him to be careful. She told us that there were things you could say in the house that you couldn_t say outside. And there were ways we could act around other black folk that we couldn_t act around white people. Even how we walked, how we talked, and who we looked at. It sounds crazy, but it was true. We had to be one way for ourselves and another way for the rest of the world. We couldn_t let white people see what we really thought or how much we really knew. It was the only way to stay safe. Mrs. Clay told us other things, too. She told us that back in the days of slavery, plantation owners would kill the smartest slaves, because they knew they were the most dangerous. I knew I was smart. But maybe deep inside, that_s why I didn_t want to show it. Maybe I didn_t want to look dangerous. Cassius didn_t buy any of it. Said he didn_t care, that he was always gonna be Cassius Clay, no matter where he was, or who he was with. When I got to seventh grade, my momma made me apply for a scholarship to the Catholic school across town. It was where all the smartest kids went. When I got the letter saying that I_d won the scholarship, I cried. Sad tears, not happy. I told my mother I didn_t want to go. I didn_t want to be one of those kids. Too dangerous. But when Cassius heard about it, he wouldn_t let me cry. He said, _Lucky, don_t you ever be afraid of being smart. Don_t be afraid of anything!_ And on the first day I came out of my house in my new Catholic school uniform, Cassius was right there on the sidewalk waiting. He walked me all the way to school to make sure nobody bothered me. Then he ran all the way back to his own school. He was probably late. But he didn_t care. _That_s what friends do,_ he said. And Cassius was always a great friend. Looking back, I remember that everybody liked Cassius. Most teachers liked him because he was quiet and polite. _Never gave me any trouble,_ said Mrs. Lauderdale, his English teacher. And outside of class, he was really funny_always cracking jokes and breaking us up. Cassius was like a magnet. You wanted to be around him. But I don_t think anybody knew him the way I did. Nobody else really knew what was behind that big smile and loud laugh. I saw the serious part of Cassius_the part of him that was determined to go places, be someone special, and make a mark in the world that would last forever. He was gonna make the world notice him. Back then, in the 1950s, boys didn_t talk about loving their friends_especially guy friends. But Cassius did. One night when we were sitting on his front steps watching fireflies, Cassius told me he loved me because I understood him. Today, he_d probably say, _Lucky, you really get me._ And I did. I was proud of it. I still am. The Day I Was Born Again It was a Friday, hotter than noon on the 4th of July. The one fan we had was blowing on Momma, who was sitting in the living room reading the Bible, probably praying that Daddy would stop galivanting like he did most Friday nights till Saturday morning. Sitting on the porch, showing my latest card trick to Lucky and showing off my new white Chuck Taylors, the heat was punching me in the face, and the sweat dripped like a waterfall. I couldn_t take it no more, so we hopped on our bikes, Rudy got on my handlebars, and we took off chasing the breeze and my destiny. We Stopped In Aunt Coretta_s bakery on Virginia Avenue, split a sweet pecan honey bun. Rode by Percy_s barbershop, saw Cobb through the window in the chair. Passed the downtown YMCA on 10th and Chestnut, heard the loud projector coming from the backyard. Bulleted past two gangsters scrapping, one with a knife, outside of Dreamland nightclub. Rode by Louisville Gardens, home to Cardinals Basketball. Cruised Fourth Street, hollering and laughing to the moon like we owned the world, when the heavens opened up, reminding us that we didn_t. The Thunderstorm emptied so fast, it was like somebody unzipped the sky onto us. Shelter So the three of us drop our bikes outside Columbia Auditorium, then dodge a million raindrops as we run up its fourteen stairs to escape the monsoon. The first two things we see inside are: Thousands of folks checking out the latest home and kitchen gadgets on display at the annual Louisville Defender Expo and Chalky, aka Corky Butler. Crazy Eyes Corky Butler didn_t so much walk as he did lumber in our direction, clearing his path like a grizzly bear on his hairy toes. He was in a dingy, too-tight warm-up suit with tattered black Chuck Taylors covering his paws that he probably bullied some kid half his size for. When he got to us, he stepped on my sneaks, and bumped Lucky with just enough force to make him lose his balance and knock Rudy backwards like a domino into an old couple checking out a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Then he stopped, his dusty-looking face so close to me I could see the gumline of his gigantic gray teeth, could smell the stream of sweat crawling down his dull, bald head. Corky closed his mouth, curled up his crusty lip, lifted his chin like he was studying me, so I balled my fists in my pockets just in case this was a test. Nice sneakers, he said, then, before walking out the front doors, he pointed his two stubby V-sign fingers at his eyes and mine. I got my eyes on you, Cassius. Corky Butler_s watching you. After he left we roamed the Expo tasting samples and not talking about what happened even though we were all thinking the same thing_I might have to fight him someday_when I ran into Teenie Clark again while waiting for Rudy to come out the bathroom. Before That Rudy said he felt like throwing up, so we ran to the toilet. Before that we ate too much Kentucky peanut brittle. Before that we said hello to Miz Alberta, who was teaching people how to vote on a cardboard voting machine that all the kids in our neighborhood helped her build last summer. Before that I told Gorgeous George, You may be gorgeous but I_m pretty, which made him laugh, then come at me with, Kid, you may be pretty but I_m exquisite, resplendent, an ivory knockout. I_m so beautiful I should kiss myself, and then he closed his eyes and poked his lips out, which made EVERYONE laugh. Before that we waited in line for almost thirty minutes to get an autograph from the boxer and sometimes wrestler Gorgeous George. Before that Lucky pretended he was blowing a saxophone while we listened to Billie Holiday sing _Too Marvelous for Words._ Before that we marveled at the mahogany record player spinning _Lady Sings the Blues_ at the RCA booth. Before that me, Lucky, and Rudy shared two bags of toffee popcorn. Before that I saw Teenie eating popcorn and talking to Miz Alberta. Before that we stood drenched in the front of the auditorium, patting ourselves dry with paper towels and right before that Corky had just stepped on my sneakers and walked out the front door when Teenie Clark passed by me with her parents and her little brother. Conversation with Teenie Hey, Gee-Gee. Hey. Whatchu doing? Rudy ate too much brittle, I said, pointing toward the bathroom. Oh. _ How_s your jet-plane bike? Still good. I can_t wait for school to be over. I_m going to camp. Gonna play tennis and swim and whatnot. What you doing this summer? Nothing, I don_t know. Cassius, you don_t like me. What you mean? What I mean is you never have words for me. Always _Yup_ and _I don_t know_ and _Oh_ Uh_! Oh_ Uh. See, I swear you can be so aloof. I don_t know what that means, Teenie, but it doesn_t sound polite to me. Cassius, everybody knows I like you. I like you, I mean, you_re nice and all. Just nice? I don_t know. How about agile? Huh? As in quick. You don_t know, Cassius? I_m the fastest runner in our school. The fastest girl, maybe. I could outrace you. You_re dreaming, Teenie Clark. If I_m dreaming, then bet me. You don_t want no parts of me, Teenie. I_ll run circles around you. I_m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my bedroom and I got in bed before the room was dark. You may be funny, but won_t be no laughing when I outrace you. Name the date and the time, and meet me on the line. You may be fine, but I_m faster than an airline. How about now? It_s raining now. You scared you might melt? NAW! Then get your buddies, and meet me outside. I_m gonna catch my stride, and you gonna lose your pride. Poor Gee-Gee. It_s on, Teenie Clark. Bet. Bet. Shock When we get to the front door Teenie_s momma comes running up behind us and pulling her by the arm while her daddy shoots us a You all better get _fore I get you look, so we do, flying out the door, back under the night rain to get our bikes to go home, but MINE ISN_T THERE. Tragedy This year_ The last new episode of Rudy_s favorite show, The Lone Ranger, aired on the radio. And he cried. We had to hide under desks with books over our heads because the principal said the Russians had a hydrogen bomb. 80 million locusts swarmed the desert in French Algeria. An earthquake struck Southern California. Hurricane Hazel hit North Carolina. And the University of Kentucky wouldn_t let Cobb_s older brother, Arthur, the best running back in the state of Kentucky, play for their school _cause of the color of his skin. There_s been natural disasters and wars, all kinds of human failings and tragedies, but right now none of it feels lousier than my royal-red and white Schwinn Cruiser Deluxe with chrome rims not being where I left it. The sixty-dollar bike my daddy bought me isn_t there. It_s GONE like The Lone Ranger and somebody STOLE it. Lucky Said he saw a security guard, so after I ran around in the rain, crying and hunting for the thief, we went back inside Columbia to report the crime but the guard was too busy eating peanut brittle and flirting with every lady that walked by to care about my misfortune, so we just asked him if there was a real cop anywhere around, and that_s when he pointed downstairs. Downstairs was a basement with a gym that smelled like a boys_ locker room with no ventilation like a hot, musty day after rain like cut grass in August like the sweat of a dozen boys after hours doing pull-ups, skipping rope, and hammering away at heavy bags and each other. Columbia Boxing Gym The plastered floor was coming apart, the fluorescent lights barely hung from the ceiling. The grimy, white-brick walls were covered in Louis and Dempsey posters and large red signs with gym rules, training checklists, Tomorrow_s Champion announcements, and corny but uplifting quotes printed on them: Winners are not those who never fail. They are those who never quit. The place was loud. Old men coaching kids_some I knew, some I didn_t, some white, most black_guys lacing gloves and talking trash about what they were gonna do to each other in the ring, and, thing was, it felt good, real good, to be in there. In the Middle of the gym was the square ring with the ropes I_d only seen on TV, and two muscly teenagers I knew from school throwing wild punches at each other_s heads and missing. On the punching bag was a tall fella with a lighting-fast blast of a blow that looked like it could tear a man_s head straight off his neck. Egging him on, occasionally looking around the gym at the goings on was an old white guy with two ballpoints in his pocket, hair only on the sides of his head, and cuffed black pants so baggy you could barely see his shoes. When he saw me, he walked my way. Conversation with an Old White Guy You lost, kid? No, sir, but my bike is. How_d you lose a bike? SOMEBODY STOLE IT, AND I AIM TO FIND OUT WHO! Simmer down, now. WHEN I FIND HIM, I_M GONNA WHUP HIM GOOD, TOO. Not a good idea to tell a policeman you gonna commit assault. You the cop? Twenty-five years. Can I file a report or something? You see the culprit? Any witnesses? No, sir. But I think I know who did it. Come down to the station on Monday. Can_t you just help me out now? A little busy down here. You a boxer, too? Do I look like a fighter, kid? That don_t mean nothing. Look at those clumsy fellas in the ring. Palookas. The both of them. They got will, but no skill, and they don_t listen. You their coach? I_m coach and uncle. Teacher and counselor. I_m breaking muscles. They_re chasing dreams. Oh. Most of these boys never gonna box for real, but at least they get to knock out their anger in the ring, instead of getting into trouble on the streets. Where_s your badge? You undercover? Enough with the questions, I got to get back to work. This is a cool place. You know how to fight? Never been beat up. That_s not what I asked you. You a southpaw? How_s your jab? Show me an uppercut. _ If you wanna learn, come down here after school one day. My momma won_t allow that. Seems to me if you wanna whup somebody, you should learn how to fight first. _ You know where I_ll be. But what about my bike? You can kiss that bike goodbye, kid, but we_ll file that report on Monday. Thanks. Hey, what_s your name? The sign on the door says Joe Martin_s Gym, and this is my gym, so you can call me Joe Martin. Good to meet you, Joe Martin. I_m Cassius Clay. Momma, Please let me go down to the gym to box, I begged. I promise I_ll do better in school, even in French class, plus I_ll bring Rudy and teach him, and make sure he doesn_t get hurt. The old man said he would help me find my bike, too, and train me to protect myself. I_ve been born again, and maybe I can be great at something besides my looks. After Momma Bird finished laughing, she agreed, then told me Cash was gonna buy me a motor scooter and that I better not let that get stolen too. I hooped and hollered. Merci, I said, then hugged her and ran to tell Riney and Lucky the big news. Cassius Clay is gonna be a fighter. ROUND SIX As you_ve probably picked up by now, Cassius always thought big. Dreamed big. Talked big! This one night when we were kids, we sat around his living room with Rudy and Mrs. Clay and listened to President Eisenhower on the radio. But even when a president was talking, Cassius would never shut up. He was too busy picturing himself in that big white mansion in Washington, D.C. _I could be president!_ he said. _I should be president!_ President Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. He said that name would look good on money. Mrs. Clay just shook her head and tried to shush him, but Cassius would not quit. _He_s right,_ Mr. Clay added. _He would be the best president ever!_ _Not just the best; the most beautiful one!_ Cassius said. And I think he really, truly believed it. I don_t know what made him think that in a million years a black man could ever be president. In most places around where we lived, black people could hardly even vote! After a while, Cassius forgot about being president_but he stayed way too cocky about most other things. Once, for about two weeks, all he talked about was the movie in his head where he beat Rocky Marciano_the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world! And in his movie, Cassius didn_t just beat Marciano. He knocked him out! Cassius was the first man in history to KO the Rock from Brockton. In his dreams. But sometimes, when it was just me and Cassius, that confidence slipped a little. It would dim and flicker. Call it nerves. Worry. Maybe fear of failing. Fear of not living up to his own movie. I remember when his first big fight was coming up, he acted all tough and flashy around most people. He bragged to Rudy. He shadowboxed rings around his daddy. He rolled up his sleeves, showing off his skinny arms, and pumped his biceps for Mrs. Clay. But sometimes, I could tell he was acting_putting on a show. Not just for them, but for himself, too. I think maybe it was his way of convincing himself of his own greatness. I remember Cassius showing up at school in the morning with two raw eggs and a quart of milk. I watched him break the eggs into the milk, shake it all up, and drink the whole mess down in one long gulp. _I_m the baaaaaaddest dude in Looville!_ he_d shout, making sure that everybody could hear him. I guess he thought if everybody heard him, it kind of made it true. Sometimes I saw Cassius get inspired by real movies. Every Saturday, we went to the Lyric, the Grand, or the Palace_the theaters down on Walnut Street. We saw every Western movie ever made. Every pirate movie. Every Tarzan movie. We wondered why the heroes in those movies were always white, even in the African jungle_but Cassius still loved seeing the good guy win in the end. Because that_s how he wanted to see himself_a winner against all odds, no matter what. The truth was, Cassius knew that most of the kids in the gym were bigger than he was. Maybe stronger. He knew there probably wouldn_t be any headgear to protect him against those hard jabs and hooks. All around Joe Martin_s gym, we saw old boxers with noses flattened like mashed turnips. Some of them had their ears all crushed and mangled too. Cauliflower ear, they called it. _I don_t wanna look like no vegetable, Lucky,_ said Cassius. _I gotta stay pretty._ And those boxing gloves. They were so dang heavy! Black leather, with _EVERLAST_ in big letters around the wrists. When Cassius was starting out, those gloves felt like lead weights at the ends of his skinny arms, especially after a long training session or sparring match. One night when we were walking home, Cassius told me he was worried that he wouldn_t be able to keep the gloves up in front of his face in a real fight. And if he let them drop, even for a second_ POW! Turnip. Cauliflower. They say fear is catching_and I admit that I caught a touch of it. I caught it from Cassius. I think deep down we both had the exact same fear_that when he finally did get to fight on TV, he would lose. And that his dream_his own personal movie_would end right then and there. Distance Me, Riney, and Lucky go waaaaay back like Cadillac seats, since grade school, but now Lucky goes to a fancy Catholic school for smart kids on the other side of town, so I only see him on weekends or after school when he comes by the gym to see me sparring. Conversation with Lucky How you like your school? The food is nasty, but it_s all right. They might skip me a grade. I wish I could skip the rest of _em. I think I might go to Bellarmine College and study journalism. To the Olympics is where I_m going. I_m too slick for these tricks, Lucky. You got to get past the Golden Gloves first, Gee-Gee. To win the Golden Gloves is my goal and after that, it_s Olympic Gold. These fists of fury will be my claim to fame. Kings and queens will know my name. Say it loud, what_s my name? CASSIUS CLAY! ENOUGH YAPPING. Oh, hey, Mr. Martin, I_m just funnin_. Do that on your own time. This is my time. Hey, Mr. Martin. Uh, I_ll catch up with ya later, Gee-Gee. Later, Lucky. Cassius, you got a dream? Yes, sir, Mr. Martin, I_m gonna be a winner. What_s the best way to make a dream come true? Only Way to make a dream come true is to wake up. You gotta put in the work, Cassius, Joe Martin growls for the hundredth or thousandth time since the first day I stepped foot in his gym. Cassius, jab jab cross, jab jab cross, and move your feet, not your mouth so much. I don_t know why I can_t do both, I say, laughing and jabbing. Roadwork Shuffle, backpedal, skip, dash, and roll. That_s half my training, _cause Joe Martin says, Boxers gotta run so they don_t get spent. A fight is not a sprint, it_s like a short marathon, Clay! So, I run fast and slow, alternating, simulating the rounds in a ring, to build up my endurance, keep my heart healthy, get my lungs and legs strong enough for the up and the down of each round after round after round. Chickasaw Park Most every day we run before school, take off quietly out the back door at 4:30 a.m._me and Rudy in our training gear: green plastic trash bags draped over us, and heavy black paratrooper boots that Lucky_s security-guard uncle brought us from Fort Knox, where he works. We cut straight through Greenwood Cemetery, zoom under the parkway through the white neighborhoods that we_re supposed to stay out of to get to Chickasaw, where we run the park three times, circling the fishing pond, the cluster of oak trees, and the three tennis courts that I nicknamed FREE CLAY, since they_re the only clay courts in Louisville and ANYBODY can play there. We race the last block back to our house as the sky dawns. Rudy yawns, hugs Momma_who_s on her way to work_on the front lawn, then goes inside to shower. Hey, Bird. I done told you I_m not one of your friends. Sorry, Momma Bird, I say, still jogging in place. I swear you so big, Gee-Gee, you done outgrown your senses. Conversation with Bird Anybody crazy enough to be up this early ain_t got much sense. Suffer now, and live the rest of my life as a champ. How long you gonna keep doing this, Gee-Gee? Until I_m a beast in the east, and the best in the west. _ Bir_uh, Momma, I_m gonna be heavyweight champion of the WORLD, and the first thing I_m gonna do is buy you a big house up in the Highlands just like the ones you clean for them rich folks every day. Son, don_t mind my job, I don_t. It_s decent work. My momma shouldn_t be cleanin_ toilets and cooking food for nobody. Not for four dollars a day. Not for nothing. I take pride in my work, son. And God bless that four dollars. It bought them trash bags you wasting. I_m not wasting them. It_s part of a fighter_s training, helps me sweat off the fat, keep my weight right. Plus, I take pride too_ in being the Greatest. Boxing doesn_t make you the greatest. Boxing_s gonna take us away from all this. We got a nice house, a car, food on the table, family. The Bible says_ The Bible didn_t get me and Rudy into Fontaine Ferry Park, and it sho_ ain_t_ Boy, don_t you dare blaspheme the Good Book. I_m just saying, I don_t need church to tell me what I already know. What you know and what you think you know is two different things. Momma, I know who I am, and whose I am. That_s what Granddaddy Herman told me. God rest his soul. _ You gonna have me late to work. Look after your brother, make sure he_s fresh. He likes to run water for thirty seconds and call himself clean. Okay, Momma. And just promise me you gonna read your Bible, go to school, and at least try not to mess up your face doing that boxing. I came in here pretty and I_m gonna leave here pretty. Boy, you sillier than a goose. Sweeter than juice, and stronger than Zeus, too. Bye, boy. Hold up, Momma. Been working on a poem for when I win the Olympics. Wanna hear it? Hurry up and say it then, boy, _fore I miss my bus_ My Victory Speech The Olympics gave me quite the scare. Fought three rounds with a big ol_ bear. Came at me all wild and frantic with fists of fury from _cross the Atlantic. Threw a big left, then launched a right. Exploded on me like dynamite. But Cassius Clay did not retreat. I knocked him into the ringside seats. Yeah, he was strong, but I was stronger. If you thought he_d win, you couldn_t be wronger. Who_s the boss that shook up the world? Face so pretty, it_s like a pearl. I_m the greatest, you have been told. Now, hand me my Olympic Gold. Craps After last period, Me, Riney, Rudy, and Big Head Paul peep some of the older guys shooting dice behind the school, so I pucker my lips like I_m _bout to kiss Teenie or something, then I sing the word New, Stretching it out_NNNEEWWWWW!_so it sounds like a police siren, which makes them jokers scram so fast, they leave all their coins on the ground for us to run over and snatch. We Take the free money, then they head over to Rainbow for cheeseburgers while I make my way to the gym, chomping on my second onion of the day _cause my father said eating them raw makes your bones stronger and keeps you regular. Regimen Shadowboxing and jogging on Mondays. Speed bags on Tuesdays. Weightlifting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Heavy bag on Thursdays. Jumping rope and sparring on Saturdays every week, but Joe Martin doesn_t think I_m ready, still won_t let me box a proper fight on Tomorrow_s Champions. Conversation with Joe Martin When you gonna let me box on TV? When you_re ready, kid. It_s been almost a year. I_m ready now. How many sit-ups you do today? Four sets of fifteen. When you do five sets of twenty and a hundred lunges and you stop playing pranks, that_s when. You keep moving the finish line, how_m I supposed to cross over? I_m ready. I say when you_re ready. Just put me in the ring, and I_ll show you. I_ll win every time. The fight is won before you get in the ring. What_s that supposed to mean? It means you gotta work harder, and faster, with your body and your mind. How_m I supposed to even get ready when you won_t let nobody hit me, Joe Martin? Soon as you learn to keep your fists up and protect your head. Can_t nobody catch me, so I don_t need my fists up. My feet protect me. That_s all fine, but some bruiser_s gonna catch you upside the head one day and you won_t know what hit you. Not while I_m moving and grooving. I got music in my soul, and rhythm in my sole. By the way, can we get some Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley on in here? You a dancer or a boxer? Maybe I_m both. Cassius Clay, fists strong as iron, feet fast as a lion. Get back to your training_ and keep your fists up. So, when you gonna let me box on TV? _ The First Time Joe Martin let me box, it was one round with Caden Wilkinson, a short sixteen-year-old from the Highlands, who pounded me so hard he bruised my jaw, nearly broke my nose, and woulda knocked me out cold if Joe Martin hadn_t pulled me out first. Set your feet, Cassius. Angle your body. Move, and_ Yeah, I know, keep my fists up. You know it, then do it. Now go get some cotton so we can clean that bloody nose. _ Sunday I try to sneak out the back door to hit the gym, but Bird catches me, says, Gee Gee, I told you no boxing on the Sabbath, then sends me and Rudy to Aunt Coretta_s house so she can cut our hair before church. I shadowbox all the way to Mount Zion Baptist, then sit in the back of Sunday school telling jokes and showing off my new card trick until the teacher offers five dollars to whomever can recite the most Bible verses. Love It_s a tie between Teenie and Riney, but he freezes on the last word and can_t remember the end of And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is_ Teenie remembers, we all clap for her, and after she goes up to get her five dollars, doesn_t even look in my direction, but blows Riney a kiss that I hate to admit makes me feel some kind of way. Conversation with Rudy We_re gonna be late for dinner. We_re not gonna be late. How long we supposed to jump rope? Till I say we finished, Rudy. I know we supposed to train hard all the time, but it_s Daddy_s birthday. No birthdays or holidays for champions. We not champions, though. Yet. Starts in your mind, Rudy. Believe it, achieve it. Heck, I_m already a champion. Call me king of the swing. How_s about we call your brother the Louisville Lip. Hey, Mr. Martin. Hey there, Rudy. That_s funny. My brother, the Louisville Lip. Y_all don_t faze me. What about Ronnie O_Keefe, he faze you? Who_s Ronnie O_Keefe? The tall white boy in the ring over there. Which one, Mr. Martin? The one with that lightning-fast jab. Nope, never heard of him. Doesn_t look so fast to me. Well, you_ll see for yourself, _cause you_re fighting him Saturday night. I am? He is? Yup. Where? On TV. Cassius Clay vs. Ronnie O_Keefe NOVEMBER 12, 1954 We both come out throwing blows everywhichaway. His arms long and bony as tree branches. My feet wild like the wind. I blow by him so fast, he can_t lay more than a few fingers on me. That_s all you got? I whisper in his ear when he clinches into me after a straight right punch that misses my cheek by an inch. The ref separates us and we go back at it, mostly missing each other until the end of the second round and most of the third, when I land a series of short pops to his head, one right below his left ear that makes him stumble into the ropes right in front of where Cash and Rudy and Lucky and my uncles are sitting and screaming, KO! KO! KO! but Ronnie gets saved by the bell, so I have to settle for a split decision and a four-dollar prize in my debut fight. Cassius Clay: One win. Zero losses. Promotional Tour To spread the word about my next fight, Cash said he would drive me around Louisville, but he didn_t come home the night before, and anyway his truck was sitting on two flats. So I down a quart of milk, two raw eggs, then take off with Rudy and Riney to knock on doors and announce myself to the world. We walk through black Parkland, laughing and cutting up and telling everybody how I_m gonna demolish my next opponent on TV. Introducing Me The name_s Cassius Clay and I_m gearing to fight. My next foe may bark, but I_m sure gon_ bite! If he comes in grinning like he_s having fun, I_ll wipe off that smile and beat him in one. If he tries to stick me like Elmer_s glue, I_ll turn up the heat and sting him in two. Tell all your friends best bet on me _cause ain_t no way he_s lasting for three. ROUND SEVEN Want another scene from the movie starring Cassius? Here_s one. At least how I remember it: It was a fall afternoon. We were out back at the Clay house. Me, Cassius, and Rudy. We had borrowed some of Mr. Clay_s paints to make posters to promote Cassius_s next fight. But Cassius wasn_t satisfied with just names and places and dates and times. He had to add a little drama. A little color. A little poetry. Come see Clay go all the way, he wrote on one poster. Another one said, In just one round, his opponent goes down. I helped with the spelling. But the language was all his. For Cassius, it wasn_t enough to be a fighter. He had to be a fighter with flair. Cassius loved music. _Hound Dog_ and _Long Tall Sally_ were on the radio all the time that year. I think maybe that_s where he got the ideas for his rhymes. He always had songs in his head. But the words came out pure Cassius. By the end of the bout, his lights will be out! Like that. After the paint dried, we hauled them all over the West End, putting up the posters wherever we could find an empty space on a wall or a fence. We were putting up the last poster near a house on Virginia Avenue when we heard a screen door opening. A lady in a bright pink housecoat came out onto her stoop. She was looking straight at the poster_and she got red-hot mad. _Hey! You boys can_t put that poster up there!_ she hollered. _It_s public property, ma_am,_ said Cassius. Polite as always. He put another tack through the poster. _I know it is,_ the lady said, _but that_s my nephew you_re gonna be fighting. I can_t have you bragging over him! Ain_t right!_ Cassius looked at the poster. Right below his name (in smaller letters) was the name of his opponent. Jimmy Ellis. _Ma_am?_ Cassius asked, pointing at her. _You Jimmy_s aunt?_ _That_s right!_ she said, pointing right back. _And I know who you are! You_re Cassius Clay! And Jimmy is going to knock you silly!_ Cassius just smiled as he put the last tack in the poster. _Sorry, ma_am,_ said Cassius. _Jimmy and I are friends, but when we get into that ring, I don_t know him. Nothin_ silly about that._ And at that very moment, I knew Jimmy Ellis was going down. In Louisville, boxing for kids was so popular that they actually put it on television_on the local station WAVE. The show was called Tomorrow_s Champions, and Cassius was the main attraction. In fact, he treated WAVE like his own personal TV empire. For every bout, he was so confident, it was like he_d already won before the fight even started. Cassius was just eighty-nine pounds when he licked his first opponent, Ronnie O_Keefe. And plenty more dropped after that. Big kids. Strong kids. When the bell rang, they came out swinging. Cassius just leaned back and let their punches land in midair. Then he started to jab back with his long arms. Right! Left! Right! Left! Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud! Pretty soon his opponents would be so tired from throwing air punches that they_d be bent over and panting! Cassius was already at another level. He had a way of knowing exactly when a punch was coming and where it was coming from. _My built-in radar,_ he told me. Nobody_fans, trainers, sparring partners_had ever seen anything like it. _It can_t be!_ one ref said. But it was. Pretty soon, my friend Cassius wasn_t the only one saying he was the greatest. All over Louisville, everybody was saying the same thing. Cassius Clay vs. James Davis FEBRUARY 4, 1955 I won four fights in a row, one with a TKO, so I took it a little easy getting ready for my big fight in the Louisville Golden Gloves tournament against a little funny-looking kid named James Davis. I slept in a lot, skipped running in Chickasaw days at a time, just ran to school and back, didn_t drink much garlic water, goofed around with the fellas at the gym, stayed up late reciting rhymes with Rudy, and ate almost a whole chocolate cake plus three bowls of ice cream for dinner on my 13th birthday all of which is why Joe Martin said I looked sleepy, fought with no killer instinct, got beat like a rented mule, and lost my fifth fight to a short, funny-looking kid named James Davis. Cassius Clay: Four wins. One loss. Cassius Clay vs. John Hampton JULY 22, 1955 Hamp smiled when he landed a few body shots, so when he got close enough to me I whispered, That_s all you got? then threw a left jab and a right hook that sent him tumbling to the mat. Cassius Clay: Nine wins. Two losses. Conversation with Rudy You racking up the wins, Gee-Gee. How do you feel? I feel with my hands. Now let me practice. I saw Teenie and Riney today. I_m trying to concentrate, Rudy. I_m just saying, I think they going together. _ You know her cousin Alice? Yeah. She asked me to be her boyfriend. I thought you already had a girlfriend, Rudy. Just _cause you don_t have time for girls, Gee-Gee, don_t mean I gotta be the same. _ You think Riney and Teenie really a thing? I DON_T KNOW, RUDY! You mad? Mad that you won_t let me focus. Ain_t nobody thinking about Riney, Teenie, or her cousin Alice. Now, unless you want a fat lip, you best let me finish my sit-ups. Before When we got home from training at the gym I made Rudy jump rope with me for another fifteen minutes, then do bicycle crunches and sit-ups in the backyard until we both just collapsed under the stars, dreaming about the future until Cash brought us back to the present. We Thought we_d done something wrong when he kept hollering for us to come inside, but when we did and saw him shaking his head, chin trembling, and grief pouring from his eyes, we thought again. And, when he showed us the picture of the dead boy, we cried too. I Was Thirteen when I lost my first fight, and my first girl to my best friend. When Teenie told me that she chose Riney _cause I was married to my boxing gloves and the ring. When I got real serious about the sweet science, trained and fought like a madman. When I decided that one day I was gonna become the heavyweight champion of the world. When my daddy showed us a gruesome magazine photograph of a twelve-year-old faceless boy who was visiting family in Mississippi for the summer when he was shot in the head, drowned in the river, and killed for maybe whistling at a white woman. When I got to see Emmett Till and the face of America. After Even though I won the next few fights, I felt a devastating loss. I Was Thirteen when I realized that maybe boxing could save us, take me away from all this. The Next Few Years I fought like a gladiator ate like a champ lit up contenders in the ring like a lamp. Sparred on the daily kept my fists high danced on my feet like a black butterfly. Me and Rudy Baker battled two rounds I sent him home crying back to Smoketown. Twice I laid Donnie Hall out flat walked all over him like a doormat. I boxed nonstop and trained insane. One thing on my mind: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. A Guy with a Camera films me dancing around my corner, waiting for the ref to blow his whistle. HEY, KID! another guy in a baseball cap with a pen and pad yells from the folded seats. YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE JIMMY ELLIS? I look right square in the camera lens and yell back_ Introduction: Reprise I_ll shake him, break him, then take him out. Who_ll win this fight, there should be no doubt. Cassius Clay is unstoppable and don_t you forget THE MAN TO BEAT ME AIN_T BEEN BORN YET. Cassius Clay vs. Jimmy Ellis AUGUST 30, 1957 He came out smiling and swinging, strong and swift like Duke Ellington on the keys, so I just danced to the rhythm in my head, bobbing and weaving, letting him tag me a few times so I could get a feel for his might for the fight he was bringing, and when I saw he was getting tired in the third and final round I whispered, No offense, Jimmy, then smiled for the cameras and opened up a can of Louisville blues that he wasn_t expecting to hear. I threw a solid punch with my left to his side and while he was distracted with the pain I landed a quick, clean uppercut with my right to his jaw that turned that smile into a frown and shut all his music off. Cassius Clay: Sixteen wins. Two losses. Rematch I saw Jimmy Ellis at Fred Stoner_s gym and we got to talking about the fight, then some guys started talking smack about how the judges did Jimmy wrong and the fight was fixed and whatnot, so yeah, I told him let_s fight again. Cassius Clay vs. Jimmy Ellis, Part 2 OCTOBER 12, 1957 More people in Louisville watched our rematch than I Love Lucy that week, which is good _cause a million folks saw my pretty face, but bad _cause they saw it when I took off my headgear after losing in a split decision: one judge for me, and two for him. Cassius Clay: Seventeen wins. Three losses. Conversation with Rudy Sorry, Gee-Gee. For what, Rudy? I mean, _cause of that last fight. Can_t have delight if you don_t see the dark, Rudy. Sound like something Granddaddy Herman would_ve said. Rudy, I_m still the greatest. In fact, I may be the double greatest. Can I ask you a question, Gee-Gee? I don_t know, can ya? Think we_ll ever get there? Get where? The Golden Gloves? Not if you don_t quit interrupting my flow. The kid who won this year was from Cleveland. I know. He was a light middleweight. Strong, though. Not as strong as the kid a few years ago from St. Louis. Never saw anybody hit that hard. He was a heavyweight, Rudy. Name was Sonny Liston. I swear he hit so hard, Gee-Gee, he could probably turn a human brain into grits. Turn July into June. That_s one joker you don_t wanna get in the ring with. The fight is won before you get in the ring, Rudy. What_s that supposed to mean? Means I ain_t gonna always be there to protect you, so focus, Rudy. I_m bigger than you, won almost as many fights as you. What I need protection for? Keep yapping, little brother, and I_ll show you. Gee-Gee, can I ask you something? You just did. What we gonna do after high school? Same thing we doing now. Knock out whoever_s silly enough to get in the ring with us. But that_s not a job. It was a job for Sugar Ray. And Joe Louis. I hear ya talking, Cassius, but maybe we ought to have a backup. Like the army. I got two words for you and Uncle Sam. What_s that? HECK and NO! Until this country treats boys like me and you as human beings, I ain_t fightin_ for no flag. True. Now, stop bothering me, and let me hit these bags. I gotta be ready. ROUND EIGHT A boxer needs a ton of confidence_way more than normal people. How else could you step into a ring wearing nothing but shorts, shoes, and gloves, knowing the guy in the other corner would try like the devil to knock you out? Without confidence, you_d probably just turn around and run. I know I would! Confidence is hard to understand. Hard to find. Hard to master. There was one thing Cassius was totally confident

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