Posted by: hksounds | June 4, 2016

Another RIP – A Very Big Man Has Gone Down for the Count

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I can be what I want to be and I’m free to think what I want to think.” – Muhammad Ali.

He is considered one of the great boxing champions and he called himself ‘the greataest.’ For him it was knowing hyperbole but it became the truth. Of those I have posted on this site with RIP after their names, or even those I have talked about, he is the only one that I actually met and spent time with. That’s the better part of a day I’ll never forget.

He had already won the boxing title at the Olympics but he was not yet the champion he was going to be and at that time few knew who he was. I know this because when he and another guy walked into the Los Angeles City College cafeteria, I saw him and my eyes got really big. I asked all the others at the table – “Isn’t that Cassius Clay?” And the uniform response was, “Who?” So what happened next? I said, most likely to myself, “That is Cassius Clay and I am going to go talk to him,” and I did.

My memory is pretty clear and that conversation went a lot like this:

“Say, aren’t you Cassius Clay?”

And he replied, for what was likely the last time he ever expressed these words, “Yeah, how did you know?”
“Well, for one thing, I saw you on Gil Stratton last night.”
“Oh yeah, shooting off my mouth.”
“Right.”
“I also saw you on the Olympics.”
“This here is my brother Rudolph Valentino Clay.”

I remember calling one of my friends and telling her to get down here as fast as she could and she did. And we four basically hung out for several hours on campus. What’s not so clear to me is the date. My best guess this was in February and if it was 1964, then it was just weeks before he became World Champion.* At some point he said he had to go back to the Statler and did we want to go with them. I can imagine an entirely different life, had I said yes. What I saw was, I’d have to ask my mother and she said no or more probably she said something along the lines of was that a good idea and I interpreted it to mean, ‘no,’ since it was a bit of a scary idea.

He didn’t put pressure on us and that in itself was remarkable. I have met few more gracious gentlemen. He was everything I admired, someone who stood up for what he believed in. He was beautiful, sweet and charming and ….
* – Confirmed by my friend Gaye who joined me. It was 1964 as she hadn’t started at LACC till Sept. 1993.

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